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!

Say it with Infographics!

I just paid a visit to piktochart.com and created my first published Infographic. This tool is amazingly easy to use and I think every librarian should know how to create an Infographic. Visuals are everything these days, so if you want to convey a message to patrons, say it with graphics!

Here’s what I just made. It isn’t spectacular, but it’s not bad for a first attempt:
Infographic

Healthy Books: The Basics

We have looked at some important aspects of keeping your books healthy earlier in this blog (see the Healthy Books link on the right side of this page – you’ll have to scroll down to find it). But be sure to always keep these basics in mind:

1. Keep food and drinks away from your books. For obvious reasons.
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*image retrieved from barnesandnoble.com

2. Always wash your hands before handling your books, and also avoid using lotions or hand sanitizers. In the past, it was common for rare book collections to require the use of gloves when patrons handled their books, but that practice is falling out of use now. With the reduced sensitivity that comes from having your fingers covered, brittle and fragile pages were suffering the effects. According to the American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works (AIC), “[m]ost of the dirt on book covers and pages is accumulated grime from oily fingerprints. While invisible initially, finger grease becomes all too visible as it oxidizes and collects dirt.” (http://www.conservation-us.org/about-conservation/caring-for-your-treasures/books#.VOj9dEIh428 Handling & Use, para. 2)
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*image retrieved from http://www.instructables.com/id/Intro_1/step5/Finisheddirty-hands/

3. Support the covers of your books. Opening a book the full 180* (or even worse – more than 180*!) is very hard on the spine. This rule is especially important for old and fragile books. There are many different types, sizes and angles of supports, and they can be very easily constructed or purchased.
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*image retrieved from bindingobsession.com                    * image retrieved from www.jiscdigitalmedia.ac.uk

Here are some useful links to professional advice on caring for your collection:

Library of Congress – Care, Handling and Storage of Books

AIC – Caring For Your Treasures: Books

National Library of Scotland – Caring for rare books

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.

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).

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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.

A Bookbinder Near You

Does anyone out there have a book (or books) that looks like this?

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As you can probably guess, I do! Well, I did. The two books pictured above were my mother’s, and they were published in 1908. Clearly, they suffered a lot over the years, and I decided to take them to my local bookbinder, Don Taylor, so they could get a new lease on life.

Restoration specialist Kate Murdoch worked on my book, and we discussed what should be done. I wanted the two books bound into one, since the one volume was missing both covers, and we hoped that the remaining covers could be salvaged. Kate resewed the pages, making the binding tight again (shown below). The beautiful endpapers were lifted from the original covers, but alas, the covers themselves were too weak and could not be restored.

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The end result (shown below) is a beautifully tight, crisp new volume that will be around for the next hundred years.

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Thank you Kate Murdoch and Don Taylor Bookbinder! If you’re in the area and have a book or two that could benefit from a skillful restoration, here’s where to go:

Don Taylor – Bookbinder 
176 John Street, Unit 511
Toronto, Ontario
M5T 1X5
Phone: 416.591.8801
Email: dstbook@gmail.com

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:

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

A Book’s Worst Enemy #4

Number Four – Adhesives and metals

How many of us have picked up a book that was mended with Scotch tape, only to have the tape come off in our hands as a rigid, brittle strip, leaving a corresponding stain on the still-broken page it was meant to fix? And how many of us have seen the rust that leaves a permanent stain on the page under a paper clip? I know you’re all nodding knowingly. Well, here’s a post to help you ensure your own library is free of casualties that can be easily avoided.

Adhesives
Adhesives like tape will break down over time, losing their stickiness, and likely staining the paper under them in the process. Images and text under the tape can also be rendered illegible by this deterioration. If you want to repair a torn page, use very fine Japanese paper and a starch paste, such as wheat or rice. Such pastes are water-soluble and can be easily removed if necessary.

If the spine of your book is coming apart, don’t use tape or Japanese paper. Go to a book binder who can re-bind it and preserve as much of the old binding as possible. (More on that in a post coming next month.)

Metals
Whether it is a paper clip, staple, straight pin, brad tack or any other type of metal fastener, it’s bad for paper, and therefore bad for books. Aside from the rust that can form, the metals emit contaminants that can break down the paper under and around the fastener, leading to brittle paper. Metal is also rough and can cut paper that is in constant contact with it. The moral of this story is, of course, to keep all metal and adhesive fasteners out of your books! If you do come across some metal tucked into a book that you want to remove, you can do so by hand, but be cautious of the paper underneath it. If you find a grommet that is embedded in the paper, or another type of fastener that is so tightly secured that removal will cause more damage, those are best left in place.

For more information on adhesives, metals and other book enemies, as well as how to combat any ill effects, see Cornell’s library website:
https://www.library.cornell.edu/preservation/librarypreservation/mee/
preservation/basicremedial.html

Red Rot: What is it?

Have you ever noticed that old books can leave their mark on you, in more ways than one?

Vegetable-tanned leathers can start to break down as a result of exposure to less-than-optimal environmental conditions like high relative humidity, airborne pollutants, or high temperature. The leather becomes powdery and reddish-brown in colour. The damage is permanent and irreversible, but further deterioration may be prevented or slowed by the application of a sealant that protects the leather from further contact with air. For all conservation or preservation procedures, application by a professional is strongly recommended. Locate a book binder or conservation expert near you to find out what they can do and how much it will cost.

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(image retrieved from http://britishlibrary.typepad.co.uk)

In the meantime, it’s best to keep books affected with Red Rot isolated. Sleeves of polyester, polyethylene and polypropylene are best because they are chemically stable and will therefore not affect the items stored in them. Paper boxes or enclosures work too and should be acid-free and slightly alkaline.

For more information on conservation and preservation, visit:

The Canadian Conservation Institute at http://www.cci-icc.gc.ca

The American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works at http://www.conservation-us.org

There are also many museum and archive associations that will be able to guide or direct you if you have any questions.