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 #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.