Healthy Book tips: How to safely handle and store your books

How to Handle Your Books

If you reach for your books by placing your fingers on the top of the spine and pulling them toward you off the shelf, you are not alone. Most people pull books off a bookshelf by tilting or sliding the volume towards them using the most obvious place to get a grip – the headcap, or row of stitching at the top of the spine. Pulling on the headcap, however, will eventually cause damage to the book.

photo 1   *This is the incorrect way to pull a book off a shelf.

Instead, press down on the top of the page block and gently tilt the book out until you can safely grasp it on either side with your thumb and fingers. Another option is to push back the books on either side of the desired volume so as to leave a space for you to grasp the book on either side with your thumb and fingers.

photo 2   *This is the correct way to pull a book off a shelf.

Storing Your Books

If you have a large book that can’t fit upright on your shelf, the best way to store it is lying flat. If space just doesn’t allow for that, store the book spine down. If you store your book spine up, the text block (all the pages) call fall out of the binding.

Screen Shot 2015-01-02 at 9.47.46 PM

*image retrieved from Northeast Document Conservation Center https://www.nedcc.org/free-resources/preservation-leaflets/4.-storage-and-handling/4.1-storage-methods-and-handling-practices

If you have a book that is fragile and needs support, the best thing to do is create a box made of archival-grade material that fits the book exactly and gives it the support it needs. The Northeast Document Conservation Center has a pamphlet on how to construct a protective book boxes, but if you don’t feel up to the task, contact a book binder or conservation centre near you to enlist expert help.

Keeping Your Books Healthy

If your bookshelf is overflowing, and it’s time to get another one, read this first. Did you know that your bookcase could be emitting acidic gases that damage your books? This post is likely a little intense for the average person who just wants to put their books somewhere off the floor. But if you have some precious old books, or if you want to take your love for books to the next level, you might find this information helpful.

Fresh wood and wood-like substances (plywood, particle board, some laminates) that contain formaldehyde should be avoided due to the acids they emit. Formaldehyde emits formic acid, which can lead to fading pigments and weakened paper. Paper that is stored near something that contains formaldehyde can then absorb the acid it emits, and we all know what happens with acidic paper: it becomes weak and brittle (see picture below).

IMG_1439      IMG_1440

The paper in the images shown here has acid in it. The yellow colour and brittleness was not caused purely from being on a wood shelf. But the acids from unsealed storage can exacerbate problems in paper that is already acidic, and it can accelerate deterioration. If you have an old wooden bookcase, then the off-gassing has already occurred and it is okay for your books to be stored there. Just remember to keep the collection well ventilated. If your wooden bookcase is not old, however, you can seal the wood so it will not emit any gases. DO NOT use oil-based anything, as the oil will emit corrosive gases. But latex paint, or air-drying enamels are okay.

More information on the subject can be found in the Northeast Document Conservation Center’s pamphlet on Storage and Handling.

More on the evils of mixing adhesives (stickies) and books

As a follow-up to my earlier post, A Book’s Worst Enemy #4 – Adhesives and metals, I have some graphic images to show you that illustrate the damage that an innocent-seeming sticky-note can do to a book! Beware – this is not for the faint of heart. This particular volume was published in 1968, so the paper isn’t as robust as it would be in a newer book, but it’s not a hundred years old, either! And LOOK WHAT HAPPENED:

photo 4 photo 3

So just a word to the wise about stickiness and paper. It’s never a good idea.