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Book Restoration with Liliana

Book Restoration with Liliana
July 25, 2023

Did you know Liliana, one of our brilliant SMSA library team repairs our damaged library books?

The Sydney Mechanics’ School of Art is the longest-running continuous lending library in Australia and is home to books new and old. Liliana carefully repairs any books in need of some love and attention, allowing the stories and knowledge to continue being shared and enjoyed by our members.

We were thrilled to catch up with Liliana as she worked her book mending magic at the NSW Guild of Craft Bookbinders.

Liliana, when did your interest in books begin?

My father was a great story-teller and, ever since I remember, my little sister and myself were indulged into the most amazing plots and characters that he, with his florid imagination, kept us fascinated.

Besides, there were always books at home (it’s a passion in the family: one of my sisters is an editor) to find in them the best sources for new adventures and characters, other than those offered by the everyday life.

What do books mean to you?

Being an avid reader, it is difficult to imagine a life without them. They are golden keys that open up unimaginable gardens, providing us with countless ways to inhabit/dwell the mind and skin of others; to be certain that there are multiple ways to grasp the complexity of this puzzle that life is.

Books are home for me: they grant me reflexion, evasion and the intimate time to rejoice in their company. Reading constitutes one of the ultimate acts of freedom: to choose what and when to immerse in a universe of its own.

Why did you decide to start repairing books?

The maintenance and repair of items was a topic lightly explored in Library studies that, somehow incited me to start taking action after noticing the growing pile of books to be ‘mended’ at the SMSA.

However, given that some of the issues were beyond my ability to fix them, and being a bibliophile myself, I found the NSW Guild of Craft Bookbinders, which regularly offers workshops for that purpose.

Members of the Guild can make use of the equipment while enjoying the expertise of the proficient bookbinders attending on the day.

Being a mere apprentice of the craft, I feel most thankful and privileged to receive their generous advice to carry out this act of faith!

How do you decide which SMSA books to repair?

On the first page of every book of our SMSA library, patrons are prompted to report any damage to the item.

Therefore, thanks to the awareness of some sensible patrons, we regularly receive items that require our attention.

Can you give us a brief outline of the book repair process?

First of all, we need to assess what the needs of the book are.  Hence:

  • Japanese rice paper can (almost) invisibly fix torn pages
  • For detached spines, every page needs to be detached one by one; then placed in a press, cut diagonal incisions along what will later constitute the new spine. Glue and attach a muslin cloth to give hold and support to the spine. Then, attach end-papers to the front and back of the book. Finally, to insert the newly repaired book into the covers or, if they are too damaged, create new ones by
  • Covering boards with new material to ‘receive’ the book like a glove !

Is there a particular part of the book repair process that you enjoy the most?

The process of book repair is like a kind of meditation: being in the moment and humbly focusing in every step with patience (detaching every page of a book, or slowly removing old glue, for instance). However, the final astonishing result comes always like a miracle, worth every moment spent with the book!


What does it feel like to bring a book that has been repaired back to the SMSA?

It is an utmost satisfying experience to rescue a book from further deterioration and return it to the shelves with a new life!

What are your hopes and goals for your book repair and binding practice in the future?

Simply continuing honing skills, and acquiring new ones.

However, through the President of the Guild, Ms. Monica Oppen, some of the members have received an unbound copy of The Bookbinder of Jericho, by Pip Williams, which has become my new project to undertake, once I will have read the book (currently on loan at our library):

I would suggest our patrons to have a look at this link where the author herself binds her own book.

On the other hand, I cannot but strongly recommend our SMSA members to visit the Guild’s page, as I am sure, they will find very inspiring courses and workshops. 

A huge thank you to Liliana Navarro for taking such amazing care of the SMSA library collection and for sharing her passion for book restoration with us. Also a special thank you to the NSW Guild of Craft Bookbinders for warmly welcoming us into their beautiful studio.


When you join SMSA as member, you get a wide range of benefits.

Access to the SMSA Library

We are home to a unique collection of books, a highlight being our Mystery and Crime section.

Able to borrow from the Tom Keneally Centre

We are honoured to be the home of Tom Keneally’s personal collection of books, many of which have been used as research for his own works.

Access to member only events

Join a members group, share your passions, learn new skills, make new friends and get involved.

Access to member only activities such as members groups

We provide a variety of member only events, these are relaxed social occasions to have fun and make new friends.

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