The conscious, deliberate and planned supervision, care and preservation of the total resources of a library, archives, or similar institution, from the injurious effect of age, use (or misuse), as well as external or internal influences of all types, but especially light, heat, humidity and atmospheric influences.
A field of knowledge concerned with the coordination and planning for the practical application of the techniques of binding, restoration, paper chemistry, and other material technology, as well as other knowledge pertinent to the preservation of archival resources.


The process of returning a book, document, or other archival material as nearly as possible to its original condition. The entire scope of “restoration” ranges from the repair of a torn leaf, or removal of a simple stain, to the complete rehabilitation of the material, including, at times, deacidification, alkaline buffering, resizing, filling in missing parts, resewing, replacement of endpapers and/or boards, recovering or restoration of the original covering material, and refinishing in a manner sympathetic to the time of the original binding of the publication. Restoration, therefore, encompasses virtually the entire range of book work—mending, repairing, rebinding, and reconstruction.
Roberts, Matt T. and Don Etherington. Bookbinding and the Conservation of Books: A Dictionary of Descriptive Terminology. Washington D.C.: Library of Congress, 1982. Online edition: (Mouse-over the bullet-point list items; they are links, even though they are in “normal” text.) Browsable and searchable.

For the purposes of this discussion of conservation and repairs, the second, narrower definition of conservation will apply, with particular focus on physical treatments for damaged music print materials. Preventive conservation topics, such as hard cover binding and pamphlet binding, as well as stabilizing treatments such as deacidification and enclosures, are discussed in other sections of this website.

The conservation problems of printed music materials are the same as those of book materials; differences are primarily of degree rather than kind. Like every other piece of print material in the library, printed music is subject to acidity and brittleness, inappropriate bindings, and imperfect environmental conditions. These issues are further complicated by the irregular sizes and the unusual formats in which music can be published, leading to damage in handling and on the shelves. Musicians’ use of printed music is also far heavier than that of a general reader of a popular book. A music work will be carried around to lessons and rehearsals, used in daily practice for weeks on end, annotated heavily, and mutilated to facilitate page turns in performance. Indeed, music materials may represent a small percentage of a library’s collection, and yet take up a much larger percentage of the conservation department’s time.

Conservation Activities


In-house activities are defined as those that could possibly be taken on by an institution with a preservation program, and at least one person or student who could perform said activities. The specific tasks depend on the amount of time, labor, supplies, and skill available to the department. Most of these activities can be outsourced, if need be, but are generally more cost-effective if done in house.

  • Erasing scores
  • Cleaning paper with solvents or washing in water (aqueous cleaning)
  • Repairing tears with archival tape, heat-set tissue, or Japanese paper
  • Tipping in loose pages
  • Rebinding pamphlet-bound scores
  • Repairing older hard-cover scores
  • Preparing newer library-bound scores for rebinding at a commercial bindery.



While there are no official standards for conservation and repairs, the following might be considered best practices:

  • All repairs should be reversible, that is, capable of being undone without causing further damage to the item in question.
  • If uncertain whether repair is appropriate for the item in hand, don’t do the repair. Consider other options like replacement, reformatting, or wrapping in a protective enclosure. Helpful guidelines for identifying repairable materials can be found here:
    • Alice Carli also offers guidelines for identifying repairable items on the “Treatment Selection Workflow”, p. 66 of Binding and Care of Printed Music (see citation below).
  • When repairing torn pages, avoid the use of self-adhesive, or pressure-sensitive, tapes, such as transparent “magic” tape, masking tape and the like. The adhesive on these tapes will eventually deteriorate and stain the paper. The dried-out adhesive is difficult to remove, and the stains are permanent.
    • The only exception to this rule is document repair tape (e.g., Filmoplast), a type of self-adhesive tape that receives lukewarm approval from experts. Document repair tape is reversible, and can be removed by applying a low level of heat with a tacking iron, but the adhesive, like that on other pressure-sensitive tape, may cause print to blur if applied over ink. Alternatives to self-adhesive, or pressure-sensitive tape include heat-set tissue, or Japanese paper with PVA (polyvinyl acetate) glue or wheat paste.
  • Avoid the use of paper clips, rubber bands, and string when handling materials whose bindings have come apart. Paper clips will leave an impression in strong paper and cause brittle paper to crumble. They can cause damage when being removed, and also eventually rust and leave stains. An alternative approach might be to wrap loose pages in an acid-free folder to keep them together.
  • Tie library-bound scores with flat twill tape when their bindings fail. Holding them together with a rubber band or tying them with string puts too much pressure on the contact points between the string or rubber band and the book.

Issues Pertaining to Music

The conservation problems of printed music materials are the same as those of books, but the degree of wear and damage is magnified by the heavy use that printed music receives when used for practice and performance. Some considerations about conservation processes for music scores:

  • Cleaning scores (and parts): Printed music is routinely marked by musicians to a much greater extent than books are annotated by readers. When cleaning markings from scores, vinyl erasers are recommended as being the least abrasive, and therefore least likely to damage the paper. Scores can be erased using electric erasers with vinyl eraser strips, or manually with vinyl block erasers. See p. 67 in Carli’s Binding and Care of Printed Music for additional directions for cleaning scores.
    • Erasing is not appropriate for archival scores, where markings are a critical part of the artifact.
  • Rebinding/recasing: When rebinding printed music, use a binding technique that a) allows the item to open flat and, b) accomodates parts if present, and c) provides a sufficiently sturdy binding that will withstand use in practice and performance. See sections on binding and pamphlet binding for more information.

Beyond these points, paper repairs and conservation processes are generally the same for printed music as for books.



Bach to Baseball Cards: Preserving the Nation’s Heiritage at the Library of Congress
Describes conservation treatment of music manuscripts and first editions, with before and after photographs of Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue, Sousa’s Stars and Stripes Forever, and more.

CoOL, Conservation OnLine: Resources for Conservation Professionals
A comprehensive site covering all facets of conservation.

Northeast Document Conservation Center (NEDCC)
Step-by-step instructions for basic book repairs, illustrated with photographs and videos. Also provides guidelines for identifying repairable materials

A Simple Book Repair Manual, from Dartmouth

General Resources

Cunha, George Martin, and Dorothy Grant Cunha. Conservation of Library

Materials: A Manual and Bibliography on the Care, Repair, and Restoration of Library Materials.. 2nd ed. Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press, 1971.

Comprehensive overview of the issues surrounding preservation and conservation by two of the pioneers in the field. Volume 2 is an exhaustive bibliography.

Greenfield, Jane. Books: Their Care and Repair. New York: H.W. Wilson Co,


A basic manual of bookbinding and book repair.

Kyle, Hedi. Library Materials Preservation Manual: Practical Methods for

Preserving Books, Pamphlets and Other Printed Materials. Bronxville, NY: Nicholas T. Smith, 1983.

Provides step-by-step instructions for basic paper and book repair.

Ogden, Sherelyn, ed. Preservation of Library & Archival Materials: A Manual.

3d ed., rev. and enl. Andover, MA: Northeast Documentation Center, 1999.

Available online as a series of leaflets on preservation topics at

Music Specific Resources

Carli, Alice. Binding and Care of Printed Music.

Music Library Association Basic Manuals Series, no. 2. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press; Music Library Association, 2003.

“This author’s aim throughout this book is to present practices developed to balance cost effectiveness with archival soundness for binding and preserving musical scores”—(Author’s preface). The author provides detailed instructions on conservation techniques that can be performed in-house, as well as information about commercial conservation and preservation options. She also includes an appendix of materials and suppliers, as well as a sample conservation and preservation policy.

Gertz, Janet, and Susan Blaine. “Preservation of Printed Music: The Columbia

University Libraries Score Condition Survey.” Fontis Artis Musicae 41, no. 3 (July-Sept. 1994):261–69.

“In 1991, Columbia University began an investigation into the physical state of the scores in its music library and the global needs of the collection in matters of conservation. Randomly determined samples were divided into different categories according to the state of conservation of the volumes themselves (good, deteriorated in part, and immediate treatment necessary) and of their paper (good, somewhat fragile, and fragile). The conclusions have provided the library administrators with solid arguments for allocating a budget for the restoration of the music library.” – Authors’ abstract in RILM.

Honea, Sion M. (“Ted”). “Conservation and Preservation.” In Modern Music

Librarianship: In Honor of Ruth Watanabe, Alfred Mann, ed., 143–158. Stuyvesant, NY: Pendragon Press, 1989.

“Preservation is [here] defined as the protection of materials and their contents; conservation as physical treatment or restoration once damage has occurred. Three different aspects of the special problems associated with preserving music materials are examined: (1) the unique physical properties of scores, sound recordings, video tapes, and laser discs; (2) the way music materials are used; and (3) the special nature and objectives of different types of music collections.” – RILM abstract by Judy Marley.

Sommer, Susan T. “Knowing the Score: Preserving Collections of Music,” Fontes

Artes Musicae 41 (1994):256–60.

Chief librarian of the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, Sommers discusses how music materials are different from books, and the implications for conservation.

Turner, Malcolm. “Conservation in Music Libraries.” Fontis Artis Musicae 27, nos.

3–4 (1980): 183–201.

Written by the former head of the music section in the British Library, this revision of a 1977 IAML report is a discussion of the problems of conservation in libraries, along with suggested practices to prevent damage to library materials.

Karen Burke, Denise McGiboney – enclosures, repairs, conservation
Last updated: October 16, 2014, at 02:17 PM EDT

Business Office: 8551 Research Way, Suite 180, Middleton, WI 53562 | Phone: 608–836–5825 | FAX: 608–831–8200 | Email: | © 2009 Music Library Association