Goals of Conservation: “First, Do No Harm”

The goal of conservation is not to return the book to its original, newly-bound state. That is known as restoration. Conservation aims are to make the book usable by scholars while saving as much of the original as possible. A conserved book will often look not much different before and after its treatment. The goal of each treatment is to make the book readable by using as much of the original as possible without any harm coming to it.

Conservators aim for minimal intervention with the cultural artifact. It is not the role of conservators to change the aesthetics of an object that was produced in a specific place and time. A book made in Philadelphia in 1840 should not look like it was repaired in Michigan in 2007. Finally, all treatments should be reversible in case a better technique is developed in the future.

A proposed treatment takes these factors into account, along with time and financial constraints. Often, a proposal is only to stabilize because further treatment is too invasive: for books that have low use, this is a good choice. If a proposed treatment for a volume will somehow compromise the original or cause damage in the future, the conservator will opt for a non-invasive treatment, such as housing the book in a protective box to protect the fragile pieces.