This section is about safely storing your books. Librarians refer to this as “preservation” (rather than “conservation,” which often refers to repairs).
- I covered this in a previous post, but it is worth beating you over the head with it. Store your books out of direct sunlight. Extensive exposure to sunlight damages book bindings just as it does your skin.
- If you are worried that the artificial lights you use in your library may produce damaging ultraviolet light, consider buying filters for them. Florescent lights are major culprits.
- Books ideally should not be kept too close to any light sources because of the heat. (The lights in our gallery have filters both for ultraviolet light and heat.)
- Bauman Rare Books galleries showcase some beautiful mahogany woodwork. A lovely wood bookcase seems ideal to store antique books, but be careful in planning this. Untreated wood can actually leak acids onto the books and cause damage. If you choose wood bookcases, make sure they are coated with a lacquer or another finish that will arrest any possible leakage.
- Unless books are unusually tall, it is better to store them vertically on the shelf. Horizontal storage, especially when one book is stacked upon another, can cause undue pressure on the bindings and eventually wear on the joints.
- Do not store the books too tightly—this creates the same problem as horizontal storage.
- Don’t store books too loosely, either. If a book is allowed to rest at an odd angle (i.e. not exactly 90 degrees), over time this will damage the shape and strength of the binding.
- The most important aspect of temperature control is to keep it as stable as possible. If you keep your library at 70 degrees while you are in the room, you really should keep it at 70 degrees always. Fluctuations in temperature are hard on books. 60-70 degrees Fahrenheit is best while still being comfortable for you.
- The basic rule with humidity is not too dry, not too wet. If you want to be precise, that will be around 45%. Humidity and other forms of water are serious dangers to your books! If you find mold on one of your books, remove that contagion away from the other books, quarantine it like the plague, and contact a professional to clean it.
- Because of temperature and humidity, you’re likely abusing your poor books if you keep them in your attic, basement, or garage. Please get them out of there!
- Surprisingly, dust can actually be a danger to your books. It can get in between the pages and cause damage, and can create an atmosphere perfect for mold.
- Be sure to dust your books regularly. However, use a feather duster (no chemicals!), and dust with a motion away from the spine. Spines can be quite fragile and you don’t want to knock off a piece while cleaning.
- Fun fact: Besides the obvious reason that adding gilt to one’s book created an aura of luxury, the gilt top edge of books also served a practical purpose: it formed a sort of wall against dust.
- If you are considering treating your dry leather bindings with oil, consult a professional first. Some oils are not appropriate for certain books, and in other cases the oil can seep into places it doesn’t belong (particularly if applied incorrectly) and cause damage.
- Many more expensive or fragile rare books have a clamshell box custom made for them. A clamshell defends against two of the biggest problems in book storage: light and dust. They are highly recommended, but expensive. Here’s a Las Vegas-based box maker’s website.
- If the cost of a clamshell box is prohibitive, a basic archival storage box like this one can be useful.
Other forms of storage
- Often people will bring me books kept in plastic zipper bags. This is a bad idea for long-term storage. Over time the plastic can release gases that, beneath the zipper, get caught with the books.
- A cardboard box is not necessarily the best idea, either. Air flow is greatly beneficial to books, particularly to avoid mold and vermin (insects, mice, etc.).
So I guess you’ll just have to commandeer that guest room and turn it into your personal library. There’s nowhere else to properly store your books!
Now that you feel confident you know how to keep your books from deteriorating, let me add one more thing. Some books will continue to deteriorate anyway. It’s not you. It’s them.
For example, a book produced after about the 1840’s will often contain highly acidic paper. The acid will continue to eat at the paper. That’s not your fault.
If you want to arrest even these more complex internal time bombs, consult a conservator. There are, for instance, de-acidification agents you can use on paper. But a basic tutorial from a professional is recommended before you let yourself loose on your books armed with chemicals.
This entry has covered only storage of books. Stay tuned for handling and restoration, covered in Parts IV and V.