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Preserving Standard-Size DocumentsCaring for Book Collections

In order to maintain the integrity of your book collections, it’s important to take the time and look at the causes of damage and deterioration. By taking steps to mediate these issues, a book’s lifetime can be extended.

Maintain Handling Standards

  • Wash and dry your hands to prevent the transfer of dirt, oils and other potential contaminants.
  • Don't use any hand creams or lotions. 
  • If you opt to wear gloves, be aware that you can lose from dexterity and may not able to pick up or hold paper safely. Consider if the cover or pages are fragile or friable when deciding whether gloves will be helpful or a hindrance.
  • Periodically, check your hands or gloves for any transfer of dust or dirt.
  • Books are intended to be held in your hands or lap, it's important to support the spine to prevent damage. 
  • If a book needs to be set on a table, use a book cradle to support the spine. 
  • Books can be severly damaged during photocopying on a standard copy machine with a flat platen.
  • Limit copying to trained staff. If you must use such a copier, never press the spine down in an attempt to get a good image. 
  • Investing in a copier specifically designed for photocopying books may be beneficial if you are frequently copying book pages. 

Storage Requirements

  • Books are composed of a variety of materials, which makes them especially vulnerable to the environment they are stored in. 
  • Avoid exposure to excessive amounts of light. Light damage is irreversable - daylight and fluorescent lighting have high levels of UV radition which can cause damage rapidly. 
  • No books or paper products should be stored in a basement or attic. 
  • A stable temperature and relative humidity is crucial.
    • Hot, dry conditions can cause paper and leather to become brittle. 
    • Warm, damp conditions can encourage mold growth and pests. 
  • For large collections, powder-coated shelving can be an economical choice. 
    • Ensure that books stand vertical and have firm support on either side. Any leaning will put stress on the book and deform the spine. 
    • Use book supports can be used but they should be stable and have a smooth surface to avoid damaging book covers. 
    • Don't pack the shelf too tight. Doing so will make the books harder to remove. 
    • Leave an inch or so of space behind shelved books to promote air circulation. 
    • Volumes that are taller than 18" or have a spine more than 3" wide should be stored flat. 
    • Don't stack more than 2-3 volumes on top of each other. Use protective pads between each volume. 
  • Smaller collections or books that are rare, fragile or damaged should be stored in individual boxes. 
    • All storage materials should acid- and lignin-free. 
    • Do not wrap books in any non-archival plastic.
    • Custom boxes can be tailored to fit any book. 
    • Another option would be to choose the closest size available and pad the extra space with archival-quality tissue. 

Repair

  • Choose archival-quality materials and adhesives that will remain flexible over time. 
  • For rare books, leather bindings or special collections, it's recommended to consult with a professional bookbiner or book conservator
  • Locate a conservator near you with AIC's Find a Conservator tool

 

For Further Reading:

Download our Bookcraft Book Repair Guide

Read Case Study VII: Books and Other Bound Materials from our Guide to Collections Care.

Caring for Your Treasures: Books.© American Institute for Conservation of Historical and Artistic Works.

Care, Handling, and Storage of Books. © Library of Congress

Basic Care of Books. © Canadian Conservation Institute