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.”

This tool can quickly transfer measurements from one surface to another without need for a ruler.

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This tool can quickly transfer measurements from one surface to another without need for a ruler.

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