Conserve, Preserve Historic Books through Adopt A Book Program

Olivia DrakeMarch 23, 20115min
County Atlas of Middlesex, Connecticut, from actual surveys by and under the direction of F.W. Beers. Published in 1874.

Olin Library’s copy of the 1874 F.W. Beers County Atlas of Middlesex Connecticut has brittle pages and tattered maps.  However, anyone investigating 19th-century local history finds the Beers atlas invaluable.

“We’d love to make the book accessible to the Wesleyan community and outside researchers, but we can’t do so without damage to the book until its physical condition is stabilized,” explains Pat Tully, university librarian. “It needs to be preserved so that it is usable by current and future scholars.”

To help old books find a home back on the shelves, The Friends of the Wesleyan Library created an “Adopt A Book Program” to support the library’s conservation program. The program offers funds to repair and preserve unique or rare treasures in the library’s collections.

Though many of the books are in fine condition, years of use inevitably causes wear and tear, book bindings decay and their paper deteriorates.

Michaelle Biddle, head of preservation services at Olin Library, will oversee the repair work. Each “adopted” book, including the Middlesex atlas, will take several hours to repair.

“Often copies of this and other, similar atlases have been broken up so that the individual maps can be sold or framed separately,” explains Suzy Taraba, university archivist and head of Special Collections and Archives. “Michaelle’s work will involve repairing torn pages and reattaching those that can be reattached, at a minimum. The atlas will almost certainly be cleaned, as well. There may be additional work that’s identified at the time the fundraising for this item is complete and Michaelle assesses it for repair.”

Once conserved, the rare books will be stored in Special Collections and Archives.

While many texts are now available online, the physical book as an artifact supports scholarship in ways that supplement the text, Tully explains. Aspects of the book such as binding, evidence of ownership or readership, and original format all reside within the physical object.

“The program benefits Wesleyan students and faculty who need to examine original materials for their research, and the preservation of unique material benefits everyone because it preserves a bit of our history and culture,” Tully says.

Olin offers several books up-for-adoption. These include Asa Smith’s Smith’s Illustrated Astronomy, from 1848; Booker T. Washington’s Working with the Hands: Being a Sequel to Up from Slavery, from 1904; and Frances E. Chickering’s Cloud Crystals: A Snow-Flake Album, from 1864.

Anyone in the Wesleyan or local community can donate a book through the program by making a donation of $25 or more. Gifts go into a special fund, which is solely used to support the library’s conservation work, ensuring that many more books will be treated and protected for future generations.

When the funding goal for each book available for adoption is reached, that book will be treated. Most volumes will cost $150 to repair, and the Adopt A Book template will list all donor or beneficiary names.

For more information on Adopt A Book, or to make a donation, go to