Photograph by Mark Thiessen
Photograph by Mark Thiessen

Here’s What You Need to Save a Book

A rare-book conservator explains the tools of her trade.

This story appears in the May 2018 issue of National Geographic magazine.

A rare-book conservator must have patience, an eye for detail, and the guts to deconstruct priceless national treasures. When a book is going to be exhibited, digitized, or, say, used for a political swearing in, it lands on the desk of Yasmeen Khan, one of 10 rare-book conservators at the Library of Congress. She’ll mend its pages with wheat-starch paste and tissue paper, resew its binding, or dismantle it entirely. Books that need a full renovation can take months of painstaking work. In them, Khan is able to see “the logic of the craftsmen of the past.”