Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Marking Your Place

We all need to mark places in books sometimes. And legal researchers need to do it a lot. When you're reading a novel, you just want to know where you left off last night (or if it's a multi-generational epic, where you left off last night AND where the family tree is). But when you're doing legal research, you might be referring to several sections of a book at once—rules, statutes, commentary, and so on. 

For Preservation Week, we're highlighting some ways to mark places and pointing out their impact on books.

The least impact method is simply to note page numbers on a separate sheet, leaving nothing in the book. The drawback is that you have to flip back and forth between your notes and the book.

A piece of scratch paper or a paper bookmark works well. But have you ever noticed an older book with a yellow patch just the size and shape of the bookmark? That damage can come from leaving your bookmark in the book, because most paper has acid and can damage the book's pages (even if the book was printed on acid-free paper.

Paper bookmarks are useful in the short term.
Left in books for a long time, though, their acid
can cause damage.

Sticky notes (including Post-it® notes) also should not be left in books because the glue can damage the paper. And once you remove the note, a little glue remains behind and attracts dirt. If you leave a sticky note on a page for a long time, you'll find that it often tears the page when you pull it off.

Sticky notes' glue can damage paper. Pulling off the note can tear pages.

Metal bookmarks, sometimes given away as promotional items, look nice, but their sharp edges can dent and tear pages.

Metal flags can damage pages.

Metal bookmarks can damage pages (and bindings, too).

It's nice to have an angel to look over you, but this
one is on a thick metal stick that would damage
your book's binding.

Paperclips are handy, but they damage and tear pages. Have you ever come across a rusted paperclip in a book?

Sometimes people grab whatever is around to mark a spot. When it's thick, like a pen or pencil, it can really mess up the book's binding.

Pencils and pens are NOT gentle bookmarks!

Preservation is not a set of rigid rules that apply in all circumstances. We all need to make judgments balancing cost and convenience with the importance of preserving an object. You might be a lot more careful with a book you inherited from your great-grandmother than you would with a paperback you plan to read once and then give away.

The statutory supplement for your tax class will be out of date in a year, so use all the tabs and paperclips and highlighting you want. But the library plans to hang onto its books for the use of future researchers, so please don't fill them up with paperclips, sticky notes and other damaging bookmarks. Use scratch paper to mark pages, and then remove it when you're through. Thanks!

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Ann Nez shared bookmarks and preservation expertise for this post.

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