StaffGuide: Preservation

Preservation information and resources



Learn how to tie cloth ties around a book

Green Books

Are all emerald-green-colored books filled with arsenic/hazardous?
No, most books with green covers are not filled with arsenic-based pigments. There are specific criteria and analysis that can be used to deduce which green-colored books could be hazardous. Even confirmed hazardous items can still be handled and used, if proper precautions are taken. Ideally, digital forms of the book should be recommended over the material object.

What visual themes should we look for to identify a potentially hazardous book?
Visual themes to look for are: a publisher date of 1830-1870; a publishing house in the UK, USA, or Germany; gold or blind tooling on the covers; gilt fore-edges; and a green to brown fade on spines. The hazardous pigments were most frequently used in book cloth and paper-based bindings, and rarely in leather bindings. **Visual themes are for basic reference, only through XRF analysis can it be identified as containing arsenic, chromium or lead, which are the main hazardous pigment elements used in these bindings. A color swatch bookmark from Winterthur Conservation Lab and a visual color swatch page of confirmed toxic volumes in Mullins Library are available with Preservation for any questionable books.

If I identify a potentially hazardous book, what should I do?
Let Preservation staff know about the book as soon as possible, and ideally handle the item with gloved hands and wash hands immediately after handling. Place the item in a zip-top plastic bag and bring it to Preservation with a note about your concerns. Wipe down any surfaces that the item touched with a damp, disposable cloth or tissue. Steps will then be taken to confirm the handling guidelines of the item and/or determine which pigments are present. Handling guidelines should be added to the item’s record in ALMA for ease of communication.

Have we reviewed our collections in Mullins for these types of hazardous books?
Yes, the Preservation unit has identified at least 20 volumes in both Main and Special Collections that test highly for the hazardous elements and are currently working on more analyses to quantify our findings and identify the pigments in question.

What if a patron, faculty member, or student wants to borrow a potentially hazardous book?
Even confirmed hazardous items can still be handled and used, if proper precautions are taken. However, it is ideal that a digital form of the book should be recommended over the material object if it is confirmed to have the hazardous elements, or has not been tested to confirm its elements, but meets the visual criteria for concern. If an accessible digital copy does not exist, ILL may be recommended.

Image Source: Melissa Tedone lecture hosted by Athenaeum of Philadelphia on 4/19/2022

Visit the Winterthur wiki for more information.