Safely Removing Sticky Binding Residue

Dear Donia,
How can I safely remove residue from binding?

Book binding


Q. Dear Donia,

My predecessor in Special Collections put pressure-sensitive tape on all our old and valuable books (call number stickers, bar code stickers, and "storage" labels)—what a mess! I want to remove them, but then I'm left with a sticky residue that's great for attracting dust and causing additional damage. Is there a product that's safe to remove the residue from the binding? Thanks, John

A. Dear John,

What an excellent question, and one that I am sure many people have. Removing call number labels, barcodes, and "protective" tape coverings on old cloth and leather bound volumes is a very tricky process and, ideally, one that would be left to a conservator.  
Removing tape by simply removing the carrier, as you said, leaves a sticky residue which will attract dust and cause additional damage. The problem with trying to remove this sticky residue is there is no product to remove the residue safely without causing even more damage. Products like Goof-Off or others may work well on ceramics but the solvents can cause a lot of damage to leather, cloth, dyes, paper, and not to mention your own health. You can use a crepe eraser as well but again, this can cause as much more more damage to the leather and the cloth as simply leaving the tape in place.
The best thing to do for the books is to leave well enough alone. If call numbers change, you can black it out the old one carefully and put the new call number on a acid-free, lignin-free flag (often sold as Permalife) so that you aren't adding to the problem. This is a common problem in most special collections that have gotten transferred from open or circulating stacks and most institutions simply leave the call numbers and barcodes in place rather than create more damage or have to pay for a conservator to remove the tape and labels safely.
I know it is not the answer you were hoping for but if you want to do what is best for the books, leave the tape alone and move forward in the way you have been (call numbers and barcodes on Permalife flags), that is the best way.

Thank you for asking "Dear Donia", and please don't hesitate to contact us again if you have any further questions.