Introduction: Book Conservation

Many of us have experienced the dread that happens when relaxing in a bath, reading a book, and suddenly you drop the book. Panic sets in, you exclaim your sincere apologies to one of your dearest friends. However, as many do not know all hope for your prized possession is not lost. With quick action, your book can be saved!

Let me disclaim a book that has been subjected to water damage will NEVER be the same. It will have those familiar ripples in the page, and the book will become warped. Quick action and knowledge on proper conservation procedures however, it will minimize the damage and make it so that future enjoyment of the book can be possible.

Books are tricky; there are several factors involved with proper conservation and rescue: Hardback vs. paperback, glossy vs. nongloss paper, type of adhesive used to hold the spine, and more. For this tutorial, I will be demonstrating one technique for a hardback, nongloss book. If you require information for another type of book, there are several resources by reputable conservationists though many university library websites.


  • Hardback, nonglossy paper book
  • Paper towels (or blotting paper)
  • A fan (or room with good air circulation)
  • Another heavy book (or a book press)

Step 1: Assessing the Damage

The first step is assessing the damage, take a look at the book and determine how wet it is. Don't try to force pages apart and don't handle the book too much. Just a brief look to see what pages are sticking together what parts of the book might be more soaked than others. Is the spine wet? If so how much?

Step 2: Blot the Pages

After you have assessed how soaked the book is you need to blot the excess water from the pages. You can use either paper towels or blotting paper to do this. I will be using paper towels. This step is a little tricky as you want about 1 sheet of paper towel per every 16 pages, but you do not want to put in so many paper towels that it bends the spine of the book. So with the 1 sheet per 16-page rule also keep in mind that you should only have about 1/3 the number of paper towel sheets as you do pages in the book.

For this use your best judgment and if you find the spine starting to bend take some paper towel sheets out and rearrange them. If pages are sticking together try not to pry them apart as that might cause damage to the pages, if you come across a large clump of pages try to see if there are any gaps in the pages that you will not have to pry apart.

After you have completed your interleaving put a sheet of paper towel at the front and back of the book between the covers and the first/last page. Then let the book sit (laying down on a clean flat surface,) for a moment so that the paper towels can absorb the water.

Step 3: Continue Blotting

After the book has sat for 10-15 minutes, you will do the blotting process again. Take out the interleaved paper towels and replace them with new ones. I try to put the second round in different pages than the first so that more water can get out. Continue this blotting process of letting the water blot out and the book rest for periods of 10-15 minutes until the pages of the book are damp, but cool to the touch.

Step 4: Find a Good Room

Before you can start drying the book you will want to make sure you find a good room for it to dry in. An ideal room will be about 60-65 degrees Farenhight and the temperature will not vary much in that room. This prevents mold from growing. The room should receive sunlight, but you do not want the book in direct sunlight all day. This prevents the pages from yellowing and words from fading. Also if the room has an overhead fan that can be turned on to encourage air circulation.

A portable fan can be brought into a room to encourage air circulation, but do not point the fan directly at the book.

Step 5: Start Drying

After your pages are damp, but cool to the touch you are ready to start drying your book. To do this you will stand the book up on its bottom end, on a flat surface, and let the pages fan out. Let the pages fan out naturally as they will come apart as the book drys.

Make sure the book is not near any heat source as this can cause uneven drying as well. Drying out the book like this takes a while, the exact time depends completely on the book (a few days to a few weeks,) so check back on it about once a day. When you check the dryness of the pages also check the spine of the book, make sure there is no mold growing.

Step 6: Shaping

As the pages start to dry and they start to un-clump you can start shaping the book. You should start this process before the pages completely dry. Wait until the pages are no longer damp, but just cool to the touch then you can start shaping. To shape the book you will carefully close the book and put it between heavy books (dictionaries work well.)

Step 7: Alternate

You will want to alternate shaping and drying. I find it works well if you press the books and shape them at night and then during the day stand the book up and let it fan out to dry again. Then that night let it be pressed again. As you alternate pressing the book make sure to change which side is down alternating between the cover and the back. Here is a drying/shaping schedule example:

  • Day 3: Drying
  • Night 3: Shape (cover down)
  • Day 4: Drying
  • Night 4: Shape (cover up)
  • Day 5: Drying
  • Night 5: Shape (cover down)

Step 8: Final Press

When the pages and spine are completely dry the process is complete, no pages should be clumped together at this stage. Do a full day of pressing to solidify the shape of the book.

Step 9: Complete

As you can see, the pages are warped, but the text is good, and there is no molding on the book. You will still want to be careful when handling the book, but it is in much better condition than if you did not do these steps. If your book is mass produced and the pages were held together with glue you will find some pages are probably falling out. This is normal with glued spines. Just be careful with handling the book

Step 10: Further Research

There are many different methods for saving a soaked book; most are just variations of this guide. Much of saving a book is just seeing what each particular books needs. Again this guide is for hardback books with nonglossy paper if your book is paperback or has glossy paper the book will need to be treated differently. There are many resources published by libraries and archives on treating these kinds of books. The resources I used to learn this method are: