Book Restoration Tips: How to Remove Library Stickers

I've seen a lot of videos and tutorials on how to remove library markings (stickers, in particular) from used books. A lot of them opt for Goo Gone and fingernails or razor blades—which is fine if you're not dealing with collectibles (although honestly I'd shy away from using any of those options. Ever).

When I worked in a library they were very fond of Goo Gone. What I found was that because it's an oil-based product, it often left slight oil staining on anything that absorbed it. This includes cloth-bound books, dust jackets that weren't coated (glossy), and text block paper. I still have books that I used this technique on over 5 years ago and although I was told the stains would dissipate, they have not.

With a few exceptions, you want to avoid introducing wet-media to your dry book. (There are, of course, wet restoration techniques, but you should leave those to the professionals who have been trained in such matters.)

When attempting to restore a book with library markings, you actually want to interfere as little as possible with the structure. This means trying ease stickers off without ripping the paper underneath and gently cleaning off residue from the surface.

In general, you have the following problem areas when dealing with library books:

These basically break down into two categories: 
  1. Ink marks 
  2. Glue residue
(I'll talk about ink marks in another post.)

Rule #1: Each book is different.

You'll use different techniques based on the condition and age of the book.

Rule #2: If you're not comfortable with any of the techniques, leave the book alone.

The last thing you want to do is completely ruin the book. Sometimes, the better thing to do is to just leave it alone, or take it to a professional to restore.

Rule #3: Use the right tools.

FYI, your fingernail, while handy, does not constitute "the right tool."

You may also need:


For stickers, you want to use a peeler label knife or a paper spatula. Some petroleum based glues also will release more easily if heated. This is where the hair dryer comes in.

Tape Residue

Tape residue is annoying, but easily tackled. Generally we see tape residue when someone has taped a mylar dust jacket protector—holding the flaps to the book block or the front cover.

If the book contact with the tape was minimal and the tape is easily removed, I'd just use the crepe eraser to remove the adhesive bits.

If the tape is laminated to the book boards, first use your paper spatula to probe around the edges. The tape may come up easily. If it does not, you may need to heat the tape slightly with a hair dryer. Be careful to not over heat which could melt the tape and the adhesive into your book cover.

Depending on the tape used, it may leave a stain behind. I would not attempt to remove the stain for fear of damaging the cover. I would use the crepe eraser to ensure that all adhesive residue is removed, however.

Glue Residue

With glue residue, you want to first determine if the glue is animal, vegetable, or petroleum based. 

Animal and vegetable glues 
These are usually water soluble and therefor reversible with water. There is a technique to releasing labels with animal or vegetable glues (so don't just go spraying water on the label). You'll see these glues most often used to adhere older bookplates to the end sheets of a book.

If you think you have an animal or vegetable glue (vegetable glues include potato, rice, and wheat pastes):
  • Cut 2 pieces of waxed paper. One to slide between the page with the label and the page behind it. This protects other pages from getting wet / damp; And one to place over your label after the wet material is applied.
  • Cut a paper towel slightly smaller than your label. (this is important because when water is applied to the paper towel it will expand.)
  • With a spray bottle, spray your paper towel to moisten it. Do this away from the book to avoid getting the pages or cover wet. You want your paper towel wet but not dripping.
  • Lay your moistened paper towel over your label, making sure that the paper towel doesn't actually touch the page the label is adhered to. We're trying to control the amount of moisture that's introduced to your book.
  • Place your second piece of wax paper over the moistened paper towel. You may want to weight this slightly to ensure it doesn't move.
  • Set a timer for 10 minutes, after which remove the weight, waxed paper and moistened paper towel.
  • With your paper spatula, explore the edges and corners of the label to see if it will easily pry up. If any of the label still sticks, place a re-moistened paper towel back on top of the label and repeat in 5 minute increments.
  • If an animal or vegetable glue was used, this should cause the label to release with minimal to no residue on your paper.
  • If your page gets damp, use the hair dryer, on the low setting to dry it.
  • If the page is still a bit 'worbly' after you've dried it, you may need to press it for 24 hours. 
    • Make sure the page is completely dry to the touch
    • Place waxed paper in front of and behind the page
    • Lay it on a flat surface
    • Stack heavier books on top of it

Petroleum based adhesives 
These need heat to help them release from the substrate. Most modern adhesives are petroleum based and most likely anything glued into a library book in the past 40+ years will be petroleum-based.

If you're dealing with a leather binding and/or silk covered end sheets, you may want to take the book to a book restorer as special rules apply to these materials when removing adhesives.

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