Book Conservation Project: Step-by-Step Guide for Miniature Books Housings

April 11, 2022 | TPL Staff

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TPL's Special Collection in the Arts has thousands of private and fine press books for researchers — or anyone who's curious. Some of these rare, hand-made artists' books are "miniature books." Miniature books are generally classified as being four inches or smaller and are made up of a mix of materials.

Here's how my fellow conservators and I made housings (enclosures) for these tiny gems to preserve them for future generations. We hope this not only sheds light on these unique holdings but also helps other institutions protect their own miniature books.

Shelves of archival materials labelled including a section on one shelf for miniature books
Portion of shelving for items in Special Collection in the Arts. A few miniature books can be seen on the middle shelf, right-hand side.

Assessment of miniature book collection

Conservation staff assessed the current storage options for the collection. There was concern about the placement of miniature books on shelving: some were unhoused; many were in paper envelopes, sometimes directly on shelves, sometimes inside lidless boxes and sometimes in custom boxes.

In consultation with Book Conservator, Kimberly Kwan, staff came up with alternate enclosure options for the miniature books. We wanted something that would be a consistent size and allowed the miniature books to be interspersed alongside large items in the collection on the shelves.

Two side by side images with ruler and colour grip next to small books
Left: The Garden Life & Literature (2021) by Carol Schwartzott. Right: Noah's Ark (1970) by Jack R. Levien.

Two housing solutions

We came up with two options for housing the miniature books:

  • a four-flap binder (best suited for books more than ¼” deep and 1" x 1”)
  • an envelope binder (best suited for books less than ¼” deep and 1" x 1”)

These two options can accommodate the smallest and largest miniature books within a consistent binder size.

Since the enclosures are not very large, we created all of the enclosures using scrap matboard, folder stock, corrugated blue board and polyester film (Melinex). Book cloth, adhesive and double-sided tape are needed. Batch-making the binders needed for both enclosure styles ensured that we always have some on hand.

Small book and larger spacers in the centre of four flaps on each side
A completed four-flap binder with a miniature book and spacers.
Open custom binder with tiny book in slip inside
A completed envelope binder with a miniature book.

How to make the binder 

This binder is used for both enclosure styles.

1. Cut boards to a standard size. 5" x 8" was what we used for most miniature books for the four-flap and envelope binders. You can adjust the spine spacer width to accommodate the depth of the book.

2. Cut spine spacer to required width.

Two flat rectangles on either side of narrow thin strip
Two binder boards and spine spacer.

3. Cut book cloth 2” or 3” wide, with enough length to cover entire front and back surfaces of the boards.

4. Paste out the book cloth with Jade 403. Lay the boards on to the wet adhesive with the spine spacer in the middle. Wrap the book cloth over the boards to the inside surface and smooth it down with a bone folder. Weight to dry.

Two rectangular pieces of cardboard bound together with black material overlapping both
Book cloth added to the boards and spine spacer.
Folder over flaps of binder with black cloth along spine
Completed  binder.

How to finish as a four-flap binder

This is best for books larger than ¼” in depth and larger than 1” x 1”.

5a. Cut folder stock for the four-flaps slightly smaller than the width and height of the boards and fold.

6a: Adhere the folder stock four-flaps to the right side of the board cover with double-sided tape.

7a: Measure the depth of your miniature book. You will need to make spacers to accommodate the miniature book inside the four-flaps. You can use E-flute or B-flute corrugated blue board. We wrapped them in archival thin weight paper to protect the edges of the miniature books.

Small book and larger spacers in the centre of four flaps on each side
Four-flap section of binder with blue board spacers and book.

8a: Adhere the layers of the blue board together with double-sided tape to build the depth you need. Then wrap them in archival paper.

9a: Adhere the spacers to the folder stock with Jade 403 and weight to dry.

10a: Place miniature book in new archival enclosure.

How to finish as the envelope binder

This is best for books under ¼” in depth or smaller than 1" x 1".

5b. Cut the folder stock envelope slightly smaller than the boards in width and length.

Flat and open binder next to piece of custom sized paper matching about half of the binder size
Cut folder stock for envelope binder.

6b. Cut a Mylar sling to fit inside the envelope.

7b. Adhere the edges of the envelope with double-sided tape and adhere to right side board.

8b. Place miniature book in sling and place inside envelope.

Open custom binder with tiny book in slip inside
Envelope binder showing Mylar sling with miniature book.


At the time of writing, the rehousing of the miniature books in this collection is underway. Below is a box of ten miniature books before and after rehousing. We're pleased with the results!

Two images of the same open box, the one on left with loss small books and the one of the right with a tidy row or uniform storage boxes
Left: storage of miniature books before rehousing. Right: storage after rehousing.

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Blog post by Erin (Conservator).