At the Book Spa! Spine Repair

The old cloth on the cover is peeled back to make room for a new cloth spine.

If you saw our blog post on July 24, 2023, you’ll remember we gave a general overview of the work that is done in the Libraries’ Preservation Unit. Today we’re taking a deeper dive and starting the first installment in our repair series, At the Book Spa! In this series we’ll highlight some of the book treatments we employ to rejuvenate books back to their best selves. Today’s treatment is: SPINE REPAIRS!

The Spine Repair is a nifty little treatment for books that are just starting to go bad—when their spines are beginning to pull away from the text block (the pages of the book, as separate from the cover). Here are some samples of books waiting for a spine repair:

Once the endsheets (or paste downs) separate fully or start to actually tear away from the textblock, a more involved repair called a recase will be necessary. But if we've caught it before that point, we can do this less invasive repair and get it back to the shelf more quickly. I particularly love the spine repair as a solution, because it is so quick and easy, and yields beautiful results with minimal effort! It’s important to note that this is a repair we only do for the circulating collection. Items in Special Collections are the prima donnas of our Libraries—they only get the gentlest of care, usually in the form of a special enclosure.


On to the spine repair! The first step is to free the spine from the cover. 


Then the old cloth on the cover is peeled back just a bit, to make room for inserting new cloth.


A shallow groove is cut into the cover board, so the new cloth can be inserted there, without causing a bump on the front of the cover.


A small section of the endsheet is gently lifted at the top and bottom of the book, to make room for the new cloth to be folded over.


The new cloth is given a paper lining the width of the spine, to provide shape and a bit of stiffness.


Next we begin the process of gluing the new spine cloth in place. It is glued into the groove we cut earlier, and firmly pressed into place with a bone folder. This is done on both covers, front and back.


At the head and tail of the book, the new cloth is folded over and glued down under the sections of endsheets that we lifted earlier. Then those sections are glued back down. 


It’s important to make sure the new cloth is well-seated in the grooves between the cover board and the spine. Again the bone folder comes in handy!

Then the part of the old spine with the title information is glued onto the new spine.

Can you even tell it was disturbed??

If you’d like to watch a detailed video of a spine repair, here’s a recording of a livestream of our lab manager Emily Schmidt performing the treatment.

Join us in the future for the next installment in our At the Book Spa! series.

If you have any questions or are interested in viewing Special Collections materials, please contact us at or submit a request online. The Special Collections Research Center is open by appointment only. Appointments are available Monday–Friday, 9am–6pm and Saturday, 1pm–5pm. Requests for a Saturday appointment must be received no later than Tuesday of the same week.