BPG Circulating Collections

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Book and Paper Group Wiki > Book Conservation Wiki > Circulating Collections

Original Compilers: Carole Dyal and Werner Haun Compiler: Lauren Telepak
Wiki Contributors: Quinn Morgan Ferris, Eliza Gilligan, Susan Russick, Jon Sweitzer-Lamme, Roger Shaw Williams please add your name here

Copyright 2020. The Book and Paper Group Wiki is a publication of the Book and Paper Group of the American Institute for Conservation. It is published as a convenience for the members of the Book and Paper Group. Publication does not endorse nor recommend any treatments, methods, or techniques described herein. Please follow these instructions for citing the BPG Wiki, keeping in mind that the Wiki is a work in progress and is frequently updated. The BPG Wiki coordinators can be reached at [email protected].

Introduction and Scope

Many research institutions hold collections that are valued primarily for their intellectual content rather than their artifactual or aesthetic features. Described as “circulating” or “general” collections, these materials are set apart from “special collections” both physically and contextually. These research materials can vary in format from bound monographs, serials or newspapers, to maps, gray literature and pamphlets. Their use can vary over time, as a result of faculty assigning a given title for a class or a curator who is writing a book on a particular subject area. If use falls off completely, a single item or an entire subject area could be withdrawn and disposed of. Additionally, the context of “circulation” will vary by institution. A university library may allow books to be checked out by faculty for years at a time or by students for a semester. Reference books or maps may be checked out to an unsupervised reading room. Circulating collections are often vast in size and tend to consist of more modern materials: mostly late-19th and 20th century materials that are made with weaker structures, such as case bindings and machine made paper. Their high use, less controlled storage and use environments make them more vulnerable to damage. The variables associated with circulating collections require repair techniques that emphasize durability over aesthetics or reconstruction of original features. Given the size of most circulating collections, speed and cost-effectiveness of materials and repair is also an important factor when making treatment choices.


This Wiki page will address the conservation needs of non-rare, paper-based items. Techniques that are already described in other parts of the BPG Wiki will be represented by links. Techniques that are particular to circulating collections treatment will be described below. These techniques are intended as guidance in order to help fellow conservation professionals develop workflows to suit the needs of their home institutions or clients. Conversations with local stakeholders will be crucial to refining appropriate choices.


Factors to Consider

Some examples of endsheets that might be retained

The fundamental consideration in general collections conservation is the preservation of the information contained within a volume for the life of the volume. In this context, conservators should be willing to perform more durable repairs to withstand use: an original structure that is failing might need to be replaced with a stronger structure rather than reinforced, if the reinforcement would remain weaker than a new structure and cause the book to fail again. In a general collections context, when developing preservation policies, curatorial input is at the collection or subject area level. Consultation with a curator for treatment of an individual item would be the exception rather than the rule.

  • Books may have limited lifespans in a collection, either because they will be replaced with more up-to-date volumes or because they will be discarded and replaced once they become too damaged to repair.
  • Original materials which do not provide aesthetic or textual information may be and often are discarded in favor of strength and long-term stability. Structural endsheets on case bindings, failing plain boards, failing spine structures, and similar structures are often replaced in order to maximize strength.
  • Facsimiles, on buffered, conservation-grade paper, of original materials may be provided to replace failing original materials. This is a common treatment for brittle books. Watermarked paper is a good choice for this, because it ensures that future preservation professionals know that the paper is both stable for the long term and not original to the book.
  • Books that might be theoretically reparable may not be repaired if the information they contain is available elsewhere. Bound volumes of serials available on microfilm or monographs available digitally are often deemed a lower conservation priority than in-copyright monographs or bound serials not available in other formats. These materials, as well as brittle materials which cannot accept repairs without degrading further, are often rerouted for boxing and storage, digitization, replacement, or removal from the collection, depending on institutional priorities.


Example of a tracking flag for the Library of Congress general collections treatment workflow

One of the most important differences between general and special-collections book conservation labs is the variety of work performed. Because each item in a circulating collection may need to be put to several different types of use over its life, and because circulating or general collections often interface extensively with other parts of library technical services, such as cataloging and commercial binding, there are a variety of different processes at work in general collections labs.

Institutions differentiate workflows in a variety of ways, and some may not be performed by general collections labs in all libraries. A selection process is used to assign items to one or more of the following workflows:

  • Treatment - The hands-on treatment of materials is of course a main focus of any conservation lab.
  • Bindery Preparation - Prior to sending materials to a commercial bindery, books may be prepared in various ways to save money, ensure a conservation-grade binding, or to customize the binding approach. This may involve creating facsimiles, consolidating endsheets, or creating pockets.
  • Digitization Preparation - Books being sent for digitization may need basic treatment to ensure safe handling.
  • Creating housings - Various types of housings are needed for items, whether that is a customized, corrugated board box or a simple stitched pamphlet binding.
  • Shelf preparation - Collections items are prepared to withstand normal storage, use, and circulation.

Regardless of the types of workflows performed in the lab, careful tracking of items within the lab is needed, given the much higher volume of items that may be in the lab at a given time. Flags which describe the expected treatment and/or databases linked to the ILS are useful tools in tracking the items in the custody of the lab.

Items needing treatment often come from multiple sources, including catalogers, circulation-desk staff, and other staff working in the stacks. As such, it is often valuable to train the workers who most often come in contact with these materials to identify problems with an item that should result in its being sent to conservation.


Case binding

See BPG Case Binding

Illustrated here are a variety of covers that may be desirable to retain

Pamphlet binding

Adhesive Binding

See also this Brigham Young University training video on adhesive bindings

Textblock repairs

See also BPG Leaf Attachment and Sewing Repair

Cross Section of Spine Lining with Alternative Materials

Attaching loose sheets or detached pages

Guarded fly leaves


Often items have missing, damaged or vandalized pages. If a suitable source image can be found, quality facsimiles can be made to act as replacements. Furthermore, facsimiles can aid in the retention of informative and/or decorative, book covers and endsheets of items that will be sent to the commercial bindery. Commercial graphic editing software, such as Photoshop, desktop publishing software, such as InDesign, and/or inventive copier machine capabilities may be used to create archival reproductions to integrate into the damaged item. Once created, facsimiles can be hinged into the text, tipped-in, or sewn as gatherings into textblocks. It is important to make sure that the paper and other materials used are of archival quality. Major candidates for facsimile treatment are informative or decorative covers of items going to the commercial bindery; pages too torn/damaged for proper paper repair; taped pages without the possibility of removal; and brittle pages, such as many old soft covers, that are too fragile to withstand paper repairs. If original materials are scanned, the repair--such as filling a loss, removing tape, or cleaning a stain--may be “performed” digitally and replace the damaged original.

To make sympathetic reproductions, one needs to consider the aspects of the original that will affect the course and possibility of a quality reproduction. For example, while it is possible to scan and copy pages of text in grayscale, pages with color visuals require a further manipulation of scanning and printing settings, which may exceed the capacity of software, printers and copiers. A black and white copier will not produce the results appropriate for a glossy color photo plate. One must also try to match the paper quality of the original as close as possible, using archival paper that matches both the color and weight of the original.When reproducing decorative or informative book covers being sent to the commercial bindery, a light cardstock might be used to indicate the original card cover.

However, all scanners and printers have size and resolution limitations. In addition, the time it takes to make quality reproductions may be too great, and a more cost-effective solution would be replacement of the item.

Housings and Enclosures

Housings for circulating collections tend to be identical or very similar to those used for special collections materials. Housings for circulating collections may be sturdier or more durable than special collections because they have to withstand a bookdrop. They may incorporate security measures that alter the object, such as sewing a pamphlet directly to the binder rather than placing it inside of a pocket. Because many circulating collections are in open stacks, it is critical that labeling is clearly visible and secure. The existence of a housing is typically noted in the cataloguing record to ensure that it is returned after circulation. Some materials are produced with their own slipcase, box or other housing - for the purposes of this discussion, those are considered to be part of the object and not a protective enclosure.

Housings are unlikely to include ‘luxurious’ or expensive materials like leather and often include bare boards and cost effective materials like buckram cloth. Space considerations can influence material selection, for example a 20pt board 4-flap wrapper takes less shelf space than corrugated board. Housings tend to be prefabricated and in standard sizes, although many corrugated boxes are custom made. Retrofitting of a prefabricated, standard housing may be done. Irregularly sized materials, such as landscape format books and oversize musical scores, will require individually made housings. For more information see the BPG page on housings.

Commercial Library Binding

Commercial library binding (CLB) is a treatment option for circulating and general collection books when economy and durability are important. CLB involves sending out library materials, mainly monographs and serials, to a certified library binder to be bound or recased into hard case bindings to extend the useful life of the materials. In contrast to an in-house bindery or conservation lab, these vendors utilize specialized equipment and work processes to economically batch the binding of large shipments of materials. Since the binding process may involve removing and discarding original features of a volume (covers and endsheets) it is not recommended for items that have artifactual or associational significance. A set of technical standards for library binding was created by the National Information Standards Organization (NISO) and the Library Binding Institute (LBI) and is updated periodically. To complement this document, a Guide to the ANSI/NISO/LBI Library Binding Standard was created to help library staff interpret and apply the standard. The sections below outline considerations for selecting volumes to send to a binder and share some processes for preparing items to go to the bindery.

Selecting library materials for binding

When selecting materials to send to a library binder it is important that the following factors are considered:

  • Is there anything unique or special about the original binding? If so, consider inhouse treatment or a housing instead.
  • Is the textblock paper in good enough condition to be rebound? (Paper is not brittle or extensively damaged, etc.)
  • How old is the volume? (Some organizations have implemented a date cut off for CLB.)
  • Is there enough margin in the textblock for rebinding? (Review bindery specifications)
  • Is there a necessary turnaround time for rebinding the volume? (Some binderies can provide a rush turnaround, but this may incur additional fees.)
  • If applicable, how does this item fit into your organization’s deferred binding program?

Preparing materials for binding

Procedures for preparing materials to be sent to a library binder will differ by institution and individual contracts. The following are some preparation procedures that might be necessary.

  • Repairing torn or damaged pages
  • Reattaching loose pages
  • Removing staples or other fasteners from the textblock
  • Retaining or photocopying informational endpapers (charts, maps, etc.) or paper covers to reattach to the textblock prior to rebinding
  • Removing items in pockets (maps, CDs, etc.) to be reunited with the volume when it returns.

Shelf Preparation

The activities designated as “shelf preparation” vary from institution to institution, and in some cases these activities may be the responsibility of departments other than preservation. Generally speaking this a workflow in which collections items are prepared to withstand normal storage, use, and circulation. In some institutions, “shelf prep” may also involve collections marking (applying barcodes, call numbers, security strips, bookplates, etc.).

Further Reading

Baker, Whitney. 2013. “The Hybrid Conservator.” Library Resources & Technical Services 48 (3): 179–90.
Beyer, Carrie, and Jeanne Drewes. N.d. "Collections Care Section Treatment Manual." Library of Congress. Accessed May 20, 2020.
Doyle, Beth. 2004. “A Stitch in Time: Repairing the Original Sewing Structure on Bound Materials. 3. A View from General Collections Conservation.” The Book and Paper Group Annual 23: 67–69.
Gilligan, Eliza and Quinn Morgan Ferris. 2014. "Book Repair Manual: Instructions for the Construction of New Cases and Components for the University of Virginia Library’s Circulating Collection". Internal publication of University of Virginia Library.
Indiana University. 2016. "IU Libraries Preservation Manual." Accessed May 20, 2020.
Merrill-Oldham, Jan, Paul A. Parisi, Gary Frost. 2008. Guide to the ANSI/NISO/LBI Library Binding Standard. Chicago: Association for Library Collections & Technical Services, Preservation and Reformatting Section.
Morrow, Carolyn Clark and Carole Dyal. 1986. Conservation Treatment Procedures, A Manual of Step-by-step Procedures for the Maintenance and Repair of Library Materials 2nd ed. Little, Colorado: Libraries Unlimited.
National Information Standards Institute. March 16, 2018. Library Binding. ANSI/NISO/LBC Z39.78-2000 (R2018). Baltimore, MD: National Information Standards Institute.
Northeast Document Conservation Center. “Preservation Leaflet 7.1: Guidelines for Library Binding.” n.d. Accessed May 28, 2020.
Silverman, Randy. 2000. "Jackets Recommended: The Case for Preserving Dust Jackets in Research Libraries." The Book and Paper Group Annual 19: 71.

History of This Page

The page, as originally developed for the Book Conservation Catalog, was titled "Case Binding Repair for Circulating Collection Items". In October 2019, the page was renamed to "BPG Circulating Collections Repair" to better reflect the contents, and was the subject of a Call For Content.

In May 2020, the content related to case binding repair was moved to Case Binding.

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