Digital Scholarship @ The Libraries

Inspiring innovative digital scholarship at the OSU Libraries and beyond

Conservation and Digital Imaging–Part 2

My previous post showed some of the ways in which Conservation specialists repair and restore items, making digital imaging more successful. This time, I’ll talk about items that are taken apart in order to ensure the best image capture.

Disbinding of books is a somewhat controversial subject. In part, this is because of the practice, sometimes used in mass digitization projects, of completely chopping off the book’s binding and stitching. It is a very efficient method, and results in a stack of loose pages which can be scanned much more quickly than a bound book. However, it is not the method used when the goal is to both digitize the book and preserve the original.

Before going on, I should point out that for some books, no type of disbinding, or even loosening of the binding, is acceptable. Rare books, artists’ books, and other books whose physical characteristics are significant must be digitized exactly as they are, without altering their condition in any way. Their stitching, binding, and covers are as important as their textual and illustrative content.

Other books, however, are of interest solely for the text and images printed on their pages. For example, many serials were sent to commercial binderies during the 1950s and 60s. These publications were bound together for the sake of convenient shelving and browsing. Their covers are the standard buckram and boards used in high-capacity industrial binderies. In some cases, they are bound so tightly, the text near the inner margins is difficult to read. Altering or removing these bindings provides better access to the printed content of the books.

For materials like these, we employ non-destructive disbinding: careful techniques are used to loosen up the bindings and spread out the pages; as much as possible of the book’s original structure is kept in place. Here are two examples of projects done in the Preservation & Reformatting Department.

Loosening pages
When the Libraries took on the project of digitizing 100+ years of the student newspaper, the bound volumes presented a problem.  The stiff spines were reinforced with cardboard, making it impossible to open the pages flat.  The pages curved toward the center, and in some cases the text was extremely close to the binding.  Successful digitization requires getting as flat a page image as possible.


The stiff binding and carboard spine liner prevent the pages from lying flat.


The buckram has been cut away from the spine, and the spine liner removed—but the sewing is kept intact. Full digital capture of the pages is now possible.



After the pages are digitized, the spine is rebuilt.


The strip of buckram stamped with the title and date is glued back into place.

The bound volume is ready for reshelving in the University Archives.


Non-destructive disbinding

Non-destructive disbinding is done by conservation professionals who understand the underlying structures of book bindings and know how to carefully take them apart.

These course bulletins from the early days of the University were bound together for convenient shelving several decades ago.  The book is too thick to scan successfully; as with the newspapers, the pages curve when the volume is opened all the way and some text is lost in the inner margins.  Before scanning, the cover will be removed and the material separated into more manageable sections.



The first step in non-desctructive disbinding is cutting away the boards that form the cover.



Next, the book is divided into smaller sections.



Elements of the binding, like the stitching and fabric backing, are left intact.


The cover is kept; part of it will be used later.


The smaller sections of the book can be flattened for scanning.


After scanning, the four sections are stored in a phase box.



With the original spine cover glued to its side, the box can be shelved in the same place previously occupied by the book.



  1. Great post, Amy. Is it possible to get a little more detail on the “page loosening” technique. Very curious about the process involved in sutting away the buckram and removing the spine backing. I have many large volumes of bound periodicals that I need to scan, and I would like to disbind them in a way that permits later rebinding with as much of the original casing as can be salvaged. The process you outlined seems like a good solution, and I would love to know some more specifics about the process of cutting away and then later reattaching the spine as you have done here (the picture here seem to suggest that you’ve left the boards themselves in place thoughout the entire process, correct?).

    Any help (or poiting me in the direction of other guidance) much appreciated. Thanks…


  2. Sure thing, Joe. OSU Libraries’ Head of Conservation, Harry Campbell, has provided the following explanation:

    “The buckram covering on the spine and just beyond the joints on each board was cut away and removed.

    All lining materials were removed from the spine by softening the old lining and glue with a paste poultice (sometimes steam was used to do this) and scraping away the softened materials.

    Now, with the spine somewhat more flexible, the book opened more easily for scanning.

    After scanning, a traditional re-back was done, including new spine linings, new buckram covering material, and mounting the original buckram spine on top of the new cover material.”

    Thanks, Harry! This is a great example of how invaluable a Conservation department staffed by experts is to successful large-scale digitization projects.

    • Our group is probably going to have to do this soon with our 40+ volume newspaper collection. Any “how to available for this task? I’m imagining removing the buckram is pretty much obvious, but the reattach mentioned glue. Is that book tape used on the edges also available for replacing the buckram?

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