Keep your treasured books safe!

Hi everyone! I hope wherever you are, you are seeing signs of spring. We had a bitterly cold weekend, but I hope that was the last of the winter’s rage. Speaking of winter, and the cold, I thought now would be a good time to remind you that while books can last a very long time, they need to be cared for properly in order to do so.

Important-to-remember rule #1: Moisture and books do NOT go well together.
Try to keep you bookshelves on interior walls, and out of damp places like attics and basements. Mold loves paper, and it doesn’t need much help to start growing. As well as avoiding the damp, make sure you don’t jam books on your shelves if you’re running out of space (like I always seem to be). Proper ventilation around and through bookshelves will help keep your books from getting moldy or musty.
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image retrieved from Redwood Environmental Services

 Important-to-remember rule #2: Light damage is cumulative and irreversible.
Have you noticed that posters or fabric that regularly get a lot of sun fade or discolor? Even things that might not get direct sun will fade over time, and books are just as susceptible to light damage as anything else. That’s why if you go to see a museum exhibit that features books, the lighting is very dim. And if you go more than once, the book(s) on display will likely not be turned to the same pages, because the curator wants to limit the amount of light that the pages get exposed to. Light not only causes fading and discoloration, but it speeds the chemical breakdown of books as well, leading to brittle pages that crack and break more easily. Try to keep your books away from light, and especially out of direct sunlight.
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image retrieved from NEDCC

I’ll keep this post short and sweet, as those are the two biggies in terms of damage, and also the two causes of damage that are easiest to prevent. For those of us who don’t live in a museum, and who don’t have all the latest tech at our fingertips to control humidity and light, keeping your books out of the damp and out of the sun is a good start!

Healthy Books in the Winter

Now that the weather is turning cold, I wanted to remind everyone out there to make sure:

  1. your books are not under a heating vent, on a radiator, or near a heat source.
  2. your books are not housed on an outside wall that gets cold (or warm, or damp)
  3. your books aren’t in direct light or too tightly packed on a shelf

When your books are near a heat source, they dry out and the paper will become brittle and break more easily. Fluctuating temperatures aren’t healthy for your books, and neither is too much moisture, as that can cause mold growth. Light damage is cumulative and irreversible, so the less light that reaches your books, the better!

For more in-depth tips on book health, be sure to click on Healthy Books in the menu on the right-hand side of the page. Thanks for stopping by!
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In the Library by John Arthur Lomax

A Book’s Worst Enemy #3

Number Three – Mold and insects

There are always mold spores floating around in air, so if your books are in a warm, humid place, you can safely assume that mold will be growing in them soon. If it isn’t already. The air doesn’t have to be warm for mold to grow if the air has a very high moisture content, as you may have seen in some refrigerators, but I admit, the likelihood of the air around the average person’s book collection being that high, is low. But stagnant air will certainly increase the chances for mold development, so, as mentioned in my previous Healthy Books post, make sure to keep your books well-ventillated.

Mold stains paper very quickly, and it is next to impossible (if not actually impossible) to get most mold stains out of paper. Mold can also weaken paper, and if it is left to its own devices, it can take over and erase pictures, and even eat away the actual paper. I have seen a book where the mold made several consecutive pages inseparable. There was no paper left in that area, just one big lump of mold.

Now for bugs. My first encounter with the bugs/books combination was as a very naive, newly-arrived Texas resident. I put a box of books in a storage unit off my porch (climate very much not controlled), and when I looked in again a few months later, the roaches scattered, shocked at being disturbed from the feast they had been enjoying for so long. After my shrieks died down, I noticed that the leather cover on my great-grandmother’s traveling letter case had been eaten, along with the glue that held it together, and many pages of the other books had their corners eaten. Roaches do not mess around! Silverfish, termites and some beetles also enjoy a tasty meal of paper. Insects tend to prefer warm, dark, damp places, so keep your books off the floor, try to keep the temperature cool, and make sure your books aren’t near any plants, or food particles.

Just as a final fyi, bird and rodent droppings are also bad for paper, as they are corrosive.