What Every Book-Lover Should Know about Book Care
Everyone who loves books wants those books to last so that they and others can continue to enjoy and learn from what the book has to offer. Good thing they feel that way, too, because much of human knowledge has come from books that have been cared for and passed down for hundreds and hundreds of years. Good book care for book-collectors means protection and preservation.
For some, the desire to protect and preserve a book comes from the sheer love of story, or the emotional attachment of having been given the book from a loved one, or some other bond. For others, caring for books takes on an added element of ensuring that the book doesn’t lose its value. The difference between a collectible book in fine condition and a collectible book in only fair condition can be a substantial amount of money.
Whatever the reason, it makes sense to practice good book care, and it’s neither a difficult nor costly thing to do. In fact, the most important things you should do to protect and preserve your books are things that cost nothing at all.
Keep Books From Direct Sunlight
The ultraviolet rays in sunlight cause a chemical breakdown in paper. (Printed Page Bookshop installed special film on its windows to reduce UV rays.) Most fluorescent tubes leak ultraviolet rays and, although weaker, can have the same effect. Sunlight also fades bindings and dust jackets, so much so that “sunning” is a common defect cited in antiquarian book catalogs. Light the areas where you keep your books with incandescent bulbs, no brighter than necessary, and not aimed directly at your books.
Keep Books From Water
Don’t store books where a broken water line or water heater can damage them. Be careful as well not to store books in areas of high humidity, such as damp basements, or even against the inside of an outside wall. Even books stored in sealed boxes in a damp basement can develop mildew. (The stagnant air contributes to the growth of mildew.) Storing books in areas where the humidity is high is a surefire prescription for mildew, and a good way to attract insects that will feast on your books.
Keep Books From Extremes of Temperature
The rule of thumb is to keep books where you’d be comfortable yourself. Both heat and cold can damage books, which is why garages, storage sheds, attics and basements are usually bad places to keep books.
Shelve and Store Books Correctly
Shelve books so that they are standing up, not laying on top of one another. Do not allow books to lean on a shelf, as this will damage their spines. Do not shelve books too tightly or too loosely. This, too, can damage them. Place similar sized books next to each other. A tall book shelved next to a short book can cause the tall book to warp. Many book collectors use shelves with glass doors for their prized books. When removing a book from a shelf, do not pull it from the top of the spine. Instead, push the books on either side of it in, and remove the book by the middle of the spine. Store books in a cool, dry, dark place. Store them on a flat surface, but not on the floor. Ideally, stand the books upright in the storage box. Always pack stacks of books with fore edges facing the sides of the box so that if the load shifts, the “spines against spines” configuration guards against damage. Do not lay books flat on top of the upright ones. If you lay the books flat in a box, be sure they are laying square. Stack similar-sized books together. Beware that most cardboard is made from craft paper that will acidify over time. Either purchase acid-free storage boxes, or consider changing your cardboard storage boxes occasionally. Never store books with their spines facing up, or the fore edge facing up. In the former case, you’re putting strain on the binding that can cause the text block to separate from the cover, and in the latter case, you will cause the spine to become cocked or slanted.
Do Not Store Items in Books
Newspaper clippings are often found in books and invariably leave a darkened “overprint.” Newsprint is acidic and can gradually destroy a book. Clippings, letters, pictures and flowers should be stored outside of books. Do not use paper clips to mark pages. Paper clips will rust or crimp pages.
Handle Books Carefully
Don’t lay an open book on a flat surface, either with the pages facing up or down. This can damage the book’s hinges. Don’t eat or drink while handling a book. Keep hands clean and dry. Do not use tape or rubber bands on books. Do not fold down the corner of a page to mark your place; use a bookmark. Do not write in books, but if you must, use a soft pencil.
Dust Your Books
Books that are dirty are particularly vulnerable to mildew. Dust in itself can cause books to deteriorate. First remove the book’s dust jacket. Then use a dry shaving brush, a feather duster, or soft, clean paintbrush to dust a book, moving the brush from the spine out. Dust all sides of a book. You can also vacuum books. Vacuum a single book at a time, firmly holding it by the middle of the spine.
Use Dust Jacket Protectors
Clear Mylar dust jacket protectors are the single best and most economical way to protect your books and ensure good book care. They are available from Gaylord Brothers, Brodart, The Library Store and other library supply companies. We will be happy to show you how to put them on.
Do Not Attempt to Restore Leather Bindings
Once upon a time, leather books were treated with a leather dressing. However, putting oil or a leather dressing on a leather-bound book can have an adverse effect. The Library of Congress says that the benefits of leather dressings are primarily cosmetic and that the use of a leather dressing by someone without professional expertise does more harm than good. Dressings can cause the leather to dry out over time, can darken the leather and cause it to become stiff. The best way to deal with this problem is to not let it occur in the first place. Do not keep leather books in environments that have extremely low humidity – such as an area above a radiator.