Rare Book Conservation Services

Pages of a rare book


The Weissman Preservation Center offers conservation services for bound special collections books and manuscripts on paper and parchment. These include both western and Asian style bindings of printed books, illuminated and other manuscripts, atlases, albums, diaries, letter books, pamphlets, and scrapbooks. The list of services provided includes the following:

Preservation assessments

Site visits to your repository may be arranged at any time to determine the range and types of bound materials present in particular collections or in general and to assess their preservation needs. Combined with an environmental assessment, this is an ideal first step in developing preservation priorities for your collections. A written report is prepared for the repository after the assessment and ongoing assistance in meeting the repository's preservation goals is provided. Click here to inquire about rare books and bound manuscripts for your repository.

Conservation surveys of individual rare books and bound manuscripts

A condition survey is an essential tool for assessing the stability of individual bindings in a collection; its findings allow treatment or housing needs to be prioritized. A survey is a systematic activity in which the condition of each object in a collection is noted and prioritized by book conservation staff on a custom-developed form or spreadsheet. Condition notes for each object and a summary written report is prepared for the repository at the end of the survey. When this information is combined with the curator's priorities for the collection objects, a treatment and housing workflow is established. This activity may be undertaken with any sized collection, staff availability permitting, but is most realistically undertaken with smaller collections. Surveys are usually mandatory for grant proposals involving conservation treatments.

Sometimes a condition assessment is more appropriate for a collection. Less comprehensive than a survey, an assessment is often completed on collections prior to digitization to flag items in need of stabilization before being sent for scanning; condition notes are cursory and may not necessarily be provided for every object. Click here to inquire about a rare book, bound manuscript, or other collection conservation survey for your repository.

Conservation treatments on an individual and batch basis

The primary aim of conservation treatment of Harvard's bound special collections, always undertaken in consultation with and with the approval of the custodian of the collection, is to stabilize them for access and prevent further damage or deterioration. Improvement in the aesthetic appearance of a volume may be a secondary goal. Treatments are normally done on individual items or on batches of objects of a similar type and condition. Typical treatments include actions to remove old, damaging, or non-functional repairs; reattach loose or broken boards; repair or replace sewing; mend and/or reattach loose leaves; improve book openings through spine lining and joint configurations; mend tears and splits to paper, parchment or binding; construct new bindings; compensate for losses; and consolidate flaking and powdering media. This service includes consultation for projects involving imaging of fragile, damaged, or difficult-to-handle bound special collections materials, as well as items requested for exhibition, loan, or particular classroom uses.

Protective housing of individual books and manuscripts

Bound volumes stored in chemically or physically inadequate or inappropriate housings are at greater risk for ongoing deterioration and damage than are those stored properly. Preservation assessments of the present housing of individual objects or collections will permit the development of a re-housing strategy that will optimize storage in the most cost-effective and space-conscious way for each repository, collection and/or unique object. Housings may range from mylar book jackets to phase boxes or folders in document boxes to cloth covered drop spine boxes. These are usually contracted out, but we can provide assistance for this task.

Presentations and workshops

Special collections book conservators are available upon request to deliver workshops, training, and presentations on, for example but not limited to, proper handling techniques for rare books, identification of materials and techniques of books and bound manuscripts. Click here to discuss presentations, training, or workshops that will meet the particular needs of your staff.

Technical analysis of materials

The Weissman Preservation Center uses a portable X-ray Fluorescence spectrometer, polarizing light and stereo binocular microscopes, ultraviolet light, and raking light to examine materials and provide crucial information used in dating artifacts, in understanding an artist’s or author’s use of materials, and in developing treatment options. These services are available to the Library community.