To Conserve | Preserve | Restore?
Often the words conservation, preservation, and restoration are used interchangeably by individuals who do not have a lot of experience in the field of book and paper conservation. Even among conservators we often find ourselves using one word for another in our conversation, but what do each of these words mean? Do they all mean the same thing? Or do they each have a particular meaning, especially when dealing with objects and time? Yes and No…let us explain.
Conserve: (verb) to prevent decay, waste or loss of
Preserve: (verb) to keep safe from harm, to keep up, maintain
Restore: (verb) to bring back to a former, original, or normal condition
Essentially, they are very similar, but with subtle differences. Let me give you a conservators point of view.
To conserve an item
To perform conservation on an item is to make an item look as “good as old”, meaning one does not change the item but take what you have and stabilize it or prevent it from going into further decay or disrepair. To return it to a useable or displayable state. Repairs might be minor and even in some cases extensive, but the overall book will remain close to its original state using materials that will strengthen the item and not alter it to a “like new condition.”
To preserve an item
To take an item as is, and create a safe housing or environment that prevents the decay of the item. Safe meaning neutral, not acidic or alkaline, not moist or hot, just the perfect conditions for the item. This might be an option taken when the item will not be used or handled, and is of very high value where no work is desired other than to preserve what is left of its original state. This is particularly desired when the book or paper item remains in good shape.
To restore an item
To take the item and make it look “better than old”, meaning one changes the appearance of the item, possibly, than when it was made originally. Sometimes an item needs this type of work, for instance, a Liverpool Book of Mormon I was repairing had nearly destroyed in a fire and required a complete new cover. The covers were burnt and beyond recognition. The text block of the book needed to be cleaned but could be reused. I then took the text block, washed the pages, repaired the tears and sewed the pages back together. But I could not reuse the covers, so I made new ones and covered the book with new leather.
Which to do?
There are different levels of each type of treatments and each item needs something different. In considering which method to use in working with an old book, depends on what the intended use for the item will be. The conservator, with the express desires of the owner or collector will decide how much or how little to do to an item.