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 #2

Number Two – Light

This post is going to be brief, because the message I hope to convey is really simple: Damage from light is cumulative and irreversible

With that important tidbit in mind, be sure to keep books you care about away from a lot of light. Archives, museums and libraries that have rare and/or culturally significant books keep them in cool, dark places unless they have to be on display, in which case they make sure the light in the display area is low, and they put ultraviolet filters over windows if they can. Books that have to be open are not kept open at the same page for the duration of the display because of the damage that would occur to the open page.

While all light isn’t great for books and paper, it’s the ultraviolet radiation in light that is the most active and therefore the most potentially damaging. Light bleaches paper and will cause inks and dyes to fade. Conversely, light can also make poor-quality paper darken. In addition to the aesthetic damage that occurs when paper is exposed to ultraviolet radiation, light speeds up paper’s oxidation, making it weak and brittle. Did you know that along with natural sunlight, fluorescent light contains ultraviolet radiation as well?

Just to review:

  • Light (especially ultraviolet radiation) is damaging to paper and books
  • Keep your books away from light as much as you can – apply UV filters to windows if you really want to protect those books
  • Light will weaken, bleach and/or darken your books