Many books are repaired with clear plastic tape or “sticky tape”. What appears to be a quick solution can become a long term headache. Before using plastic tape, it is important to understand how it works and how it affects books.
Plastic tape is dangerous to use in books because it is unstable and causes a great deal of damage. Often two or three layers of tape will cover a single repair. The first repair did not work and additional layers of tape were added to correct the problem. Unfortunately, adding more layers of tape only creates a thick pile of tape; it does not repair the book.
Plastic tape has two main parts: a clear plastic carrier and an adhesive that sticks to the paper. As the tape ages in a book, the adhesive penetrates the paper fibers of the page and causes a chemical reaction that stains the paper and makes it brittle. Once the adhesive has dried, the plastic carrier falls away and the stain remains. The adhesive on the tape seeps out the edge of the plastic carrier, attracting dirt or sticking one page to another.
Once plastic tape is in a book it is very difficult, if not impossible to remove.
Simply lifting the tape off the page will damage the paper because the top layer of paper is removed with the tape. If the tape covers the text, it cannot be removed without damaging the print. Removing plastic tape is difficult even for trained conservators who work with chemicals and special tools.
Using plastic tape to reattach a loose page restricts the page from turning freely. The plastic tape has a sharp edge and makes the original paper heavier than before so the paper tends to turn against the edge of the tape and not at the hinge. Soon the paper breaks against the edge of the tape and falls out of the book.
Now a second repair is needed and if the page is repaired a second time with plastic tape, the same problem occurs.
Wide, clear plastic tape is also used to repair the cover spine or corners of a book and special “repair wings” are sold to repair corners as well. While tape covers up the problem it does not repair it. Often the tape slides out of position or detaches entirely while the adhesive remains on the book cover attracting dirt or sticking books to one another on the shelf.
Decisions regarding when and how to use clear plastic tape should be made ahead of time. Be certain a book is not important to keep before repairing it with plastic tape. Keep in mind that once the tape is in the book, it cannot usually be removed without damaging the book.