State Library of Victoria > La Trobe Journal

No 45 Autumn 1990



This glossary has been prepared for the layperson and so is not intended to give a full technical description of terms and techniques. Many of the definitions listed have been drawn from commonly used reference books in various fields of conservation, as well as from specific glossaries. It is recommended that readers who would like further information on any term listed in the glossary should consult reference material listed below as well as references-cited in reading lists throughout this issue of The La Trobe Library Journal. Terms printed in italics in the glossary indicates a separate entry under that heading. These terms will be italicised only at their first reference point.


  • Australian Institute for Conservation of Cultural Material, AICCM Code of Ethics (Canberra 1988).

  • H. Bennett, Concise Chemical and Technical Dictionary (New York, Chemical Publishing Company, 1986).

  • William Bull (Ed.), Bookbinder. Journal of The Society of Bookbinders and Book Restorers (Essex, 1987–89), Volumes 1–3.

  • Eric Burdett, The Craft of Bookbinding (London, David and Charles, 1975).

  • Dictionary of Paper (New York, American Paper and Pulp Association, 1951).

  • Arthur W. Johnson, The Thames and Hudson Manual of Bookbinding (London, Thames and Hudson, 1978).

  • Matt T. Roberts and Don Etherington, Bookbinding and the Conservation of Books (Washington, Library of Congress, 1982).

  • Con Tanre, Alan Davies and Peter Stanbury, The Mechanical Eye (Sydney, University of Sydney, 1977).


chemical compound or mixture that has a pH of less than 7.


material or substance which has no acidity and with a pH of 7 or above. ‘Acid-free’ materials are generally used for archival storage.


chemical compound or mixture that has a pH greater than 7.


aluminium salt, usually aluminium sulphate, used as an internal size for paper and board. An acidic salt, in the presence of moisture it causes degradation for paper-based material.


leather, usually pigskin, which is tanned with alum and traditionally recognised for its long lasting properties.

ambient temperature

temperature of the surrounding air


without water; many solid chemical compounds contain water, when this is removed the material is called anhydrous

animal glue

adhesive made from hide and bones of animals, used in bookbinding

archive text

trade name for a durable paper with a guaranteed life of 200 years which is generally used for storage, repair and interleaving. It was originally developed for Library of Congress printed catalogue and can also be used for photocopying.

backing (binding term)

the action performed with a hammer on the spine of a book after rounding to form shoulders for the boards to fit against.

backing (paper conservation term)

the technique of strengthening or reinforcing a print or document by applying a sheet of paper to the reverse side with an adhesive.


cross thread formed in sewing headband which locks previous twists to the text block

blind lines

lines impressed on book covering without use of leaf metal or foil. Typically across the spine in leather binding, either side of raised bands.

blind tooling

application of heated finishing tools on surface of leather Or tawed skin to leave a dark impression. Carbon is sometimes used to darken the impression.


metal knobs or studs, usually brass, fastened to book cover for ornamentation or to protect leather from scratches or other damage. Generally found on large volumes with wooden boards intended to lie on lectern tables rather than stand on bookshelves. Will damage adjacent books unless housed in boxes.


closely woven book cloth made from cotton or linen, durable and smooth finished to block well.


in conservation, the term buffer or reserve is used to describe an alkaline substance which is added to paper to counteract deterioration through inherent or introduced acidity. It is often added to archival storage containers. An alkaline buffer or reserve is also considered to be part of the deacidification process.

calcium carbonate

an alkaline chemical compound, used as a buffering agent in archival papers and boards.

calcium hydroxide

an alkaline chemical compound, used as a buffering agent in some conservation treatments.


photographic process, first described in 1839 by William Fox Talbot, which produced a paper print from a paper negative. The process involved coating a silver nitrate solution onto salted paper. Also known as salted paper prints.

camera obscura

latin term for a darkened chamber into which light is admitted through a small hole or lens to produce an inverted image on translucent paper or glass. It was originally used as a guide for drawing portraits and landscapes.


print made from glass plate negative which was mounted on a cardboard backing. It was used as a visiting card and measured 4 1/4" x 2 1/2”.


the major chemical constituent of all plant fibre, it is a long chain organic polymer.


protein contained in bone tendons and connective tissue of animals, processed to produce gelatin.


guncotton dissolved in ether. Glass plate negatives were hand coated with collodion containing potassium iodide and sensitised just prior to use with a solution of silver nitrate. Also known as wet-plate process. An under-exposed collodion negative can be backed with black to form a positive, known as ambrotype.


substance with adhesive qualities which is used to reestablish bonding in materials where adhesion has been lost eg. pigment which is loose or flaking from its support can be ‘consolidated’ to reattach it.


the removal of acid from or the reduction of the acidity in paper or paper-based products. In small scale deacidification, a weak alkali is used in solution to reduce the acid content. In commercial processes being developed, the alkali is used in the vapour phase. During deacidification an excess of the alkali is deposited within the material to provide a buffer against further acid attack and thus extend the life of the item.

deionised water

water which is purified by the removal of nearly all heavy metal contaminants, chemical hardeners, and chemical and biological pollutants.


all the records, written, pictorial or photographic, which are accumulated during the examination and treatment of an object.

dry cleaning

see mechanical cleaning.

fascicle or fascicule

a gathering of folio leaves sewn together. Published works were sometimes issued in this form, by instalments, with temporary wrappers. A series of documents may be attached to blank fascicle leaves.


wheel-shaped finishing tool with single or multiple lines on its circumference, used to impress lines on covering material of a book. Pattern may be continuous or have a gap to facilitate starting and stopping lines.

flesh side

the side of a hide or skin which is next to the animal, often referred to in the making of parchment or vellum.


a sheet of paper or parchment folded in half. Often denotes a book size of leaves half the size of the sheet.

fore edge

the edge of a book opposite the spine


exposure to vapours, fumes or gasses for disinfection of unwanted pests, insects, fungus etc.


simple plant that has to live on another substrate, commonly called ‘mould'. Certain fungal varieties will colonize and grow on paper and paper-based products, leather, cloth and film emlusions, causing surface damage and eventual deterioration of the material.

gamma radiation

very high energy radiation which is used in conservation to sterilize material infested with insects or fungus.

gelatin silver prints

a gelatin base containing silver bromide and machine-coated onto paper. Silver chloride was also used but had a slower sensitivity and was not suitable for enlargements.


the direction in which fibres are generally aligned in a sheet of machine made paper.

hair side

the outer side of an animal's hide or skin. Also known as the grain side.


coloured or plain thread sewn through sections of a book, at head and tail. They originally had constructive purpose but are now more decorative than functional. Simpler forms are manufactured separately then glued on. Sometimes called endbands.


the moulded leather turn-in at the spine of a book, both head and tail. May be angled or square-shaped.


a paper tube adhered to the spine, before covering, to assist in the opening of the book.


chemical compound whose main components are carbon and hydrogen. Most organic material is hydrocarbon based, eg. petrol is a mix of hydrocarbon compounds.


reaction between an organic compound and water, usually in the presence of acid or alkali. The reaction results in the decomposition of the organic compound to form new compounds.


material that will absorb water from the air.

kettle stitch

the stitch or knot made near the head and tail of section sewn books which joins the sections together.


an acidic organic chemical found in wood pulp. A contaminant in poor quality paper, it breaks down to produce other acidic chemicals.


a unit of light intensity, this is the illumination level at the point of measurement.

mat, matt or mount

board or paper layer which is placed between an object and its frame as a means of protection, additional support and for aesthetic reasons.

mechanical cleaning

the removal of surface dirt from paper-based objects by a variety of techniques (eg. using soft brush, plastic eraser, draftsman's powder or scalpel), not including wet or solvent techniques.


trade name — see polyester.

methyl cellulose

a modified form of cellulose used as an adhesive. It is water soluble and very stable.


networks of threads or other simple structures made of fungal cells, can be found within the host material or on the surface, usually both.


trade name — see polyester.

organic solvent

a liquid chemical, based on a carbon structure and commonly hydrocarbon in origin, that will dissolve another substance. Examples of usage in conservation are to remove pressure sensitive tape, and to reduce tape stains and adhesive residue.

organo metallic

compound where a metal is directly bound to a carbon atom eg. chlorophyll is an organo metallic compound.


a type of chemical reaction. In organic compounds it often results in the addition of oxygen to form a new compound. In conservation, oxidation reactions cause problems because they usually result in the deterioration of material. For instance, when cellulose undergoes an oxidation reaction, one result is that polymer chains are broken causing the fibre to become brittle.


measure of acidity and alkalinity. Expressed on a scale of 0–14, with 0 being highly acidic and 14 highly alkaline. pH 7 is defined as neutrality.


general abbreviation for a family of water-based polymer adhesives, the major constituent of which is polyvinylalcohol. Often used in book-binding and box-making.


polyvinylchloride, a relatively unstable polymer made into transparent sheets for negative storage, page protectors etc, and can also be found in solution as an adhesive. Its breakdown products are acidic and its use is not recommended.


trade name, a rigid transparent plastic sheet used in place of glass because it is light and difficult to shatter.


brass with a 12–15% zinc content. Pliable and gold-coloured, it was used for making mats used on ambrotypes and daguerreotypes.


trade name — see perspex.


family of hydrocarbon polymers utilised to produce a transparent, very stable film used for film base, protective sleeves, photographic enclosures etc.

polythylene or polythene

a simple hydrocarbon polymer that can form a relatively stable film, used for bags, protective sleeves etc.


chemical compound built up from many small identical units known as monomers. Plastics are polymers.


a simple hydrocarbon polymer that can form a relatively stable film, used for bags, protective sleeves, boxes etc. It is more stable than polyethylene, and is thus preferred for archival storage.

raised bands

ridges across the spine of a book sewn on cords or thongs. When covered with leather, the bands divide the spine into separate areas for titling and design. False raised bands are made from strips of leather, board or cords glued to the hollow.


trade name for an acid-free spun bonded polyester web which is used in conservation as a support, wrapping or interleaving material.


the process of shaping the spine of a text block into an arc of approximately one-third of a circle.


natural gum, acidic in nature, used in conjunction with alum as an internal size for paper and board. In the presence of moisture, the rosin-alum bonds are broken and the resultant acids cause degradation of paper-based material.

salted paper prints

see calotype.

size or sizing

addition of substance to paper or board, either during-processing or as a surface coating. Sizes are used to alter the properties of the paper or board, for example to improve resistance to moisture or provide a better printing surface.


a sheet of paper that has been printed and folded ready for sewing, with other sections, into a book. Each section of a book bears a different signature mark.

signature or signature mark

used in bookwork as a guide to gathering. Usually a letter or number printed at the bottom of each section. The sequence of signatures is progressive throughout the book.


a substance, usually liquid, that will dissolve another substance.


part of a book at the folds of sections, visible as it stands on a shelf.

step-joint corners

a strong method of joining laminated walls in box-making.


see headband.


instrument, either electronic or mechanical, that records temperature and relative humidity over time periods.

ultra violet (UV) light

light of very short wavelength which therefore has high energy. Invisible to the naked eye, it is found at the blue end of the light spectrum. Exposure to UV light accelerates the deterioration of paper-based material and can cause fading of dyes and pigments. Prolonged exposure can cause embrittlement, loss of image and discolouration of material.