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Customer information: Caring for your books

Hello again and welcome to another blog posting. Last time we wrote about how to store (display) your collection and today we will be discussing how to take care of your collection correctly.

So oddly enough people tend to forget that books are made of paper. By nature paper is temperamental. Time and temperature can cause many issues. If you have a larger collection, sometimes it becomes quite difficult to care for it properly. Since books went from ultra expensive & rare to inexpensive & cheaply made around 120 years ago people have seemed to forgotten just how delicate (for the lack of a better word) books are.  Over the years I have seen this when evaluating and purchasing collections. There are two distinct patterns that occur: lack of knowledge and lack of care. The rest of this blog post will address these two issues and then give suggestions on how to properly treat a book collection of any size. As always feel free to contact us with any other suggestions or comments.

Lack of Care

Lack of care can be also called lack of time. Unless you are dealing with your collection daily, either using them as reference materials or even just rereading them weekly, time management becomes a thing.It might not seem like a big deal, but cleaning your books collection should be a weekly thing. Fairly simple to do, if you have a particular day that you vacuum or dust, just remove the books from the case -by the middle of the spine and not the ends as that will start to fray the ends- wipe each with a dry soft cloth, then wipe down the shelf.  Dust can do damage to books over time as it will start mold growth. Dust mites attract other bugs which can also start infesting in your book. Did your pets get fleas? Child get lice? Have to spray for bugs? These are all good times to clean the book collection. Small bugs love to hide in yummy paper.

Wiping down the books weekly or bi-monthly can also let you see if there are any other issues occurring.  For example fading, yellowing, sagging spines and cracking of leathers. All of which are problems that can be easily solved in the beginning.

Lack of Knowledge


Books are made of paper.

This seems like an obvious thing to state, but do you know what exactly this means?  When paper is made wood pulp and fabric are mixed with water into a pulp and then formed into flat sheets. This video can explain how to do it better.   From the time that the page is created, paper is drying out. When it is completely dried it is cracking and tearing, sometimes crumbling at the touch. All of those cartoons when the book turns to dust and blows away in the breeze can happen if certain conditions are not met.

Mind you these days the production of paper has somewhat changed, so decay and turning to dust is not easily accomplished.

Step 1: Placement: Keep your books in a stable, moderate environment. Room temperature, around 70 degrees, and a moderate relative humidity, around 50%, is best.. Too much heat or moisture can speed up deterioration or encourage mold growth. Even though it is tempting to make the basement or the attic into a personal library or just use it for long term storage, don’t. They tend to not have good circulation (ha library joke!) and will either be too hot or too damp. If you absolutely need to store them long term in those locations use proper book storage containers, like those sold by Talas and other library archival companies.

So now where you do put your collection? Not in your sunniest room, no matter how much you enjoy reading there. There was a reason that personal libraries in older homes are designed with tall narrow windows, in the middle of the house and with dark heavy wood and leather.  Direct sunlight will fade your books. This is seen a lot where the dust jacket spine has changed from an orange to a weird mustard color after a decade of early morning sunlight. This is a reason why bookstore window displays need to be changed monthly.Fading, tanning, sunning and darkening are the terms used to describe the affect ultraviolet and direct sunlight will have on the paper. Leather bindings will dry out and crack instead of fading, but fading can occur as the moisture is drawn from the skin.  Pleather, or synthetic leather, will also fade, but instead of cracking it will get a sticky sensation as it starts to melt in the heat.  So a nice room in the middle of the house like the family room or living room seems more ideal.

But don’t put your bookcases along the exterior walls. Modern buildings are fairly thin walled. As someone who has lived in town homes, the warmest walls was the ones connected to the other homes. Exterior walls can experience temperature and humidity changes. Also try not to put the cases under a vent or along a wall where the plumbing shut off valves are or any lace that might have issues if a pipe breaks. (so not next to the kitchen or the bathrooms). That makes the ideal location the hallway.

Step 2: Treatment: You need to keep moisture down near your books. There are many ways to do this, but the best way I have found is to get boxes of baking soda and keep them open behind the books. Just like in the fridge, they absorb smells and excess moisture. Unlike other items like kitty litter and cedar chips, baking soda does not smell. And when it starts to clump, then you can replace it.  Cedar chips and moth balls will keep away most bugs, but the scents can be over whelming if you have a lot of shelving.  Closing the nearest air vent to the shelves  is a good thing to do as well.

If you have noticed some major damage to the books remove them from the shelves. What is “Major” damage? Mold, cracking leather and darkening pages.

If there is mold, mildew or a sweetly sour  scent remove the book from the others. Take the two books next to it off as well. Place the book in a ziploc bag with baking soda in it. Check the other books. Place them in individual ziploc as well. Wipe down the whole shelf with a bleach and water mix and let it air dry. Place the uncontaminated books on the shelf. Search for a place that repairs books. Depending on the extent of the damage, it might be best to just get a new copy.

If the leather is cracking and flaking  CALL A PROFESSIONAL. There are certain glues that will cause worse damage if used.

If the pages are darkening and tearing DO NOT USE COMMON TAPE. The glue will cause yellowing and will make the problem worse. If the damage is on the dust cover/ dust jacket remove it from the book. Get  some mylar covers and place them inside. Mylar covers are the book equivalent to plastic wraps and boards used for the storing of comic books. is a good place to find bookcovers for your collection.   The long link below  shows how to fit it properly.

Please do not use leather oil, mineral oil or leather dressing on the books. This will cause staining and other issues down the line.

If you have an extensive collection  having a good book bindery to go to is a blessing. is a good one.

Knowing these things will help you maintain your collection and help you enjoy your books for years to come.

Happy reading.




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