The University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa Library has 3.4 million books at its two campus locations, Hamilton and Sinclair Libraries. And if library books could talk, oh the stories they could tell.

“Well, we have a lot of books that come in that people use as coasters, or they put it into the car and they spill chocolate and food and drinks on them, so they come back really messed up,” said Deborah Dunn, who runs the UH Mānoa Library Book Preservation Lab.

people fixing books

Staff and student workers from the UH Mānoa Library’s book preservation lab restore and return damage books back into circulation.

The damaged books—an average of more than 2,000 a year—are restored and returned to circulation thanks to a small and dedicated group of staff and student workers from the library’s book preservation lab.

“They have their wear and tear,” said Dunn. “So they send them up here so we go about analyzing how we can strengthen them.”

Most of the wear and tear is from being borrowed over and over again, year after year. More than half of the damaged books are sent to a professional bindery to be re-cased. But many of the older books are tattered and torn and require specialized treatment.

“If we can resurrect it, we will,” said Dunn. “Some of the things we do is re-case it, or put in new end sheets, clean it, we do a dry cleaning.”

“We do mending for torn pages, hinge tightening if the spine is kind of loose,” said Jasmine Pang, a student assistant in the preservation lab.

The book preservation team uses an assortment of tools, including scalpels—where a steady hand is a must—erasers and a lot of glue. The process usually takes days because the repairs have to set before the staff can move on to the next stage.

“I love doing this,” said Mary Joy Llaguno, who also works in the preservation lab as a student assistant. “I love handling books. I love them. It’s like arts and crafts. You get to cut things.”

When books are really old and or very damaged, enclosures are built to protect and preserve them until there is time to work on them more intensely. The focus is always on getting the most popular books back on the library shelves as quickly as possible, which has been done successfully for thousands of titles over the years.

“It’s a nice feeling to know that you have the ability to fix a book and then make it easier for the person to use,” said Pang.

“There is a huge satisfaction in returning them once they’re fixed,” said Dunn. “So it is very rewarding, book by book.”

“Hopefully our children can handle them too,” said Llaguno. “And read them, physically read them.”

This Post Has 13 Comments
  1. I recently “damaged” a book. When I payed $30.00 for it (a price which was ridiculous)I was told that I do not own the book-even after paying for it. So, I am assuming it ends up being restored and recirculated. I would like to know why a book that I have paid for, was not given to me after payment? I believe if you pay for something it should be yours to keep.

    1. Because you are paying only for the damage caused to that book. Damaging the library book should be a crime. Few books are so old and rare that they are priceless and impossible to find a replacement.

    2. Hi Keala,

      We checked with the UH Library and this is their general policy.

      The UH Library system applies fees to patron accounts for damaged and lost items. Whenever possible for damaged items, the libraries will attempt to repair the item so that it may re-circulate. The fees cover the cost of the repair for materials used and staff time. If the item is considered damaged beyond repair, the fee covers the replacement cost of the item. Generally, repair costs are usually lower than replacement costs, for both the library and the patron.

      For example, at the UH Mānoa Hamilton Library, the average “lightly” damaged book has a fee of $30 ($20 damage fee plus $10 processing fee). The average replacement fees are much higher at $70 ($60 replacement fee plus $10 processing fee). The exact cost of the replacement fee is determined, however, by the individual UH System library.

      For books that are damaged beyond repair, there is no set policy regarding whether the patron gets to keep the book after paying the replacement and processing fees. This practice varies from library to library.

      UH News staff

  2. Great article on what happens behind the scenes! My friend’s father was contracted to restore books that were damaged in the flood at Manoa a while back; an absolutely incredible art! It definitely requires patience, but the outcome is well worth the preservation for generations to come.

  3. This is a wonderful article! Books are precious and the knowledge contained within their pages are priceless! The cost of repairing and/or restoring books is minimal compared to the invaluable contents contained within them! I think that Keala mistakenly thought that she (or he) was paying for the book itself but the price paid was for the costs incurred to repair the damage.

  4. It’s really good to see that books are being restored. Yes, we can find anything on the internet in a matter of seconds. Read our stories from e-books. But looking for information and reading novels from a book has that different feeling. The smell of old books when you flip the pages.

  5. It is reassuring to see books valued and restored, cared for. Thank you to the women ( and men, yet I did not see any in the video)who patiently and carefully bring a book back to life.

  6. Do you do book restoration for the public as well? I have a book from 1840 I am trying to repair.



      1. That is an invalid link would you have a better contact for the preservation department please also I am searching out for bookbinding classes I did it years and years ago for a Bookshop and I am needing to Bone up on the talent and I see articles on Jesus Sanchez but no contact information he’s basically disappeared from the islands face of the Earth for that matter thank you very much

  7. Are you able to repair privately owned books in which the binding is failing? If you send your books out, can you tell me where?

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