Books are beautiful things. They store the accumulated knowledge of mankind, they explore questions of what it means to be human, and they contain stories which enable us to know ourselves better. Surely, then, we should take proper care of our home libraries, be they a single stack of paperback novels, or a room full of erudite tomes.

Temperature and Humidity

Extremes of temperature and humidity will damage books. An environment that is too dry will cause paper to become brittle and binding glue to crack. An environment that is too damp will promote the growth of mould and cause pages to “cockle” (become so wavy that they begin to force the book open).

The ideal book storage area will have a relatively constant temperature of between 16˚C and 18˚C and a humidity level of 50% – 60%.

Preparation

You want your books to last a lifetime, so whether you’re storing them out of sight or displaying them on bookshelves, you should ensure that they have been adequately prepared.

  • Remove any foreign objects like bookmarks, scraps of paper etc. from between the pages to prevent discoloration.
  • On valuable books protect dust jackets by wrapping them in mylar plastic film.
  • Have any insect infestations treated by a professional book conservator.

Shelving Your Books

To avoid binding damage, books should be stored vertically. When using bookshelves, place enough books on each shelf to ensure that they all hold each other nicely upright. Be careful, however, not to pack them too tightly together as this will cause pressure damage and will also create undue friction and possibly tearing when a volume is pulled from the shelf.

If possible, leave a gap of a few centimetres between the top of the book and the shelf above it to allow air to circulate. This gap will also enable you to reach to the back of the book and push it from between its neighbours, rather than perform the damaging practice of hooking a fingertip into the top of the spine and dragging.

Bookcases situated against an outside wall should have a 5cm ventilation gap between the back of the bookcase and the wall to prevent moisture damage to the books.

As ultraviolet rays damage book materials and cause fading bookshelves should not be placed in areas that receive direct sunlight.

Book Storage

If you are planning to box up your books and store them out of the way for a period of time follow the tips below.

  • Use boxes made from acid-free materials.
  • Use smaller boxes rather than large cartons as the per box weight will be less and the books will suffer less stress.
  • Place books in boxes vertically as you would on bookshelves – try to avoid lying your books flat, and certainly don’t lie any books flat across the tops of vertically packed books.
  • Use acid-free tape to seal boxes.
  • Store boxes in a cool, dark area that neither suffers from damp nor excessive dryness.
  • Ensure there is adequate ventilation space around the boxes.
  • Place your boxes on a wooden pallet or shelf as an added precaution against damp.
  • Protect against mice and other paper-eating vermin.

A Lifetime of Pleasure

A little attention to temperature and humidity, the proper placement and filling of bookshelves, and correct storage techniques are all it takes to ensure your books will give you a lifetime of reading pleasure.

To learn more about looking after your home library check out this video.

How to Store and Shelve Books so They Last, 4.0 out of 5 based on 2 ratings

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Comments

  1. I would add to Duncan’s good advice that there are some insect pests that can damage books.

    Booklice (also known as psocids) are tiny pale insects that feed on microscopic moulds that will grow on paper and other starchy materials. The moulds grow at slightly elevated moisture levels. The books don’t have to be damp to the point of wrinkling the paper. These insects will easily move from books to the flour or cereals in your larder. They can be controlled by use of light spray of long lasting insecticide and good ventialtion or use of dehumidifier.

    Silverfish can also damage books. They will attack paper to feed, not on moulds, but on the starch in glues of book bindings and wallpapers.

    Control of silverfish can require a thorough treatment of the damp areas in the home where they lurk and breed. You will find detailed inforamtion on silverfish and booklice on the Kiwicare website.

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