Are Your Books in Good Hands?

As we all know, books have been around for centuries, and many have survived to prove that fact. Tragically, most books printed today (mass market, trade publications) are predicted to last a mere 60 years. Why? Because of the mush they’re made of that breaks down quickly and is very acidic – unlike the rag paper that was used in the 15th century that still survives today.
IMG_1440  abtre14
*second image retrieved from http://www.collaborations.com/Ebay/abtre.htm

So while caring for your books may seem pointless if your collection is largely composed of recently published popular books, every little effort helps in making sure they last as long as possible. If you’re a regular follower of this blog (thank you!!) you will have seen various posts in the Healthy Books category here, but today I thought I would point the way to others who have also published quick tips on what to do (and what NOT to do!) to keep your books healthy.

  1. Care For Your Collectible Books: 18 Essential Tips by emptymirrorbooks.com
  2. How To Care For Your Books: 5 Tips by apartmenttherapy.com
  3. Dos and Don’ts for Taking Care of Your Personal Books at Home by the New York Public Library
  4. How To Care For Your Books by the Washington Post

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.

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*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.

A Book’s Worst Enemy #1

Number One – Temperature and Relative Humidity

Heat speeds up chemical reactions and thus paper decomposition. Lower temperatures are actually very good for paper, but not for humans to live in, so a low temperature is not really practical advice here. High humidity means there is a lot of moisture in the air, and when there is a lot of moisture in the air, mold and mildew can form on paper. Low humidity, on the other hand, can cause paper to dry out too much and become brittle. In an environment where relative humidity fluctuates, paper expands and contracts with moisture gains and losses, and it experiences structural stress, becoming unstable and easily susceptible to damage. Therefore, fluctuations in both temperature and relative humidity should be avoided. Lower temperatures and stable (ideally 35-45%) relative humidity are best for books.

  • Do not place your books on an outside wall that will be cold in the winter and warm in the summer.
  • Do not place your collection near heating or cooling vents so hot or cold air blows directly on them.
  • Make sure your books are not jammed in too tightly together on a shelf. Good circulation helps prevent pockets of still air, which allow for mold to grow more easily.