Preserving Historic Ledgers and Books

Guest Contributor: Keri Hallford, Collections Archivist, Alabama Department of Archives and History

Are you considering wrapping books in your agency’s collection? Keeping bound records was once an easy and reliable way to reference important information quickly. In the digital age, however, this method is becoming outmoded, and books often fall into disrepair. As bound records become more delicate and harder to care for, some archivists choose to wrap books and ledgers to protect these aging materials.


Before you wrap your books, there are several questions that you need to consider:

  • Are you trying to prevent damage caused by friction as books are placed on or removed from shelves?
  • Have the cover and/or multiple pages detached?
  • Are you trying to keep a book from becoming dusty or dirty?
  • Is the book’s leather binding producing a fine powder, referred to as “red rot”? (Note: Red rot has certain health dangers associated with it, so please proceed with caution!)
  • Do your materials need water protection that your shelves are not supplying?

If your answer to any of these questions is yes, then you may want to wrap your books. Contemplate your budget for a wrapping project. Will this be an ongoing initiative? Are you only wrapping books on an “as-needed” basis? Will you do just a few books, or rows upon rows? The supply costs can add up over time.


You can decide to tie broken books together with cotton tying tape, to hold detached pieces in place until the greater binding issues can be addressed. Be sure to not draw the tie too loose or too tight, as either may cause damage to the book.

There are several materials that we recommend wrapping with. From least durable to most durable, you can use archival wrapping paper (like a craft paper in consistency, but better for the item); folder stock; or a spun polyester fabric-like substance called Tyvek. Tyvek is chemically inert, allows the books to breathe, and is water resistant, which may help to protect an item that isn’t protected by shelving if there’s a water leak.


Tyvek has a shiny side and a soft, matte side. Be sure to use it with the shiny side out. Much thought needs to go into how often your books are going to be used in the future. If it sits on the shelf most of the time, then you probably won’t need to use this more durable material.

To wrap a book, use the book itself as a template. Cut two strips of your chosen material to fit the length, width, and height of the book. The two strips should lie across each other perpendicularly.

Secure one strip with at least two pieces of hook and loop material (such as Velcro), and then secure the other side in a similar fashion.


Write proper identifying information on the spine or wherever it can easily be viewed in your storage area. You may use a pencil or, more permanently, a micron pen.

Before you close the book, slip an identification paper into the book so it can be identified if its wrapper is misplaced.

To shelve your book, consider the size of the volume and the size of the shelf. Very heavy and large books should be laid on their sides. Never pile up so many books that the bottom volume is impossible to move and its spine warps with the weight. If possible, do not allow a book to overhang its shelf. Serious damage may occur over time, especially when an item can be accidentally struck by people walking past the shelf.

Below is a handy rubric of archival quality supplies and companies from which you can purchase them. As with any supply company, buying in bulk will help save money.







Wrapping Paper




Perma Dur
Folder Stock


Folder Stock

Cotton Tape

Unbleached Cotton
Tying Tape

Unbleached Tape

Cotton Tying
Tape 100 yds

Cotton Tying
Tape 1,000 yds

Hook Loop


Velcro Velcoin

Velcro Velcoin

Pigma Pen

Pigma Pens

Pigma Pen

Pigma Micron

Books and ledgers remain crucial resources, even in the Web 2.0 era. They provide both intrinsic and extrinsic information, ranging from the actual content of the text to features like binding, flyleaves, watermarks, margin notes, page layout, and the ink and script used by the creator. By taking measures to protect bound records in need of extra care, these items can be made available to researchers for years to come.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s