The restoration process is nothing short of microsurgery, and the type damage to each document is a story — and a puzzle — on its own. Some manuscripts are torn from overuse and aging; others are burned or stained from attack or sabotage. And then there are some that were completely fossilized over time — the combined result of moisture and scorching temperatures — looking instead like large rocks dug up from the earth.
“Those are the most difficult books to restore,” said Fatma Khudair, the senior employee in the restoration department. “We apply steam using a specialized tool to try to loosen and separate the pages.
Technicians sterilize manuscripts and documents for 48 hours, washing them of dust and other impurities that accumulated over time. Then, they go page by page using Japanese tissue, specialized paper for book conservation and restoration, to either fill in torn edges or layer the more-delicate documents with a sheer coating to make them more durable.