Caring for Your Book Collection


Book CollectorOne of the most important questions that any collector of books can ask himself is this: “How should I care for my book collection?”  We offer advice on this subject from numerous sources, including Gladstone’s essay, “On Books and the Housing of Them,” and William Blades’ very comprehensive and still useful (though published in 1888) work, The Enemies of Books.  

The advice found below is much more recent – it dates from 1998 – and is from The Library of Congress:

Damage to a book is cumulative. The repeated incorrect handling and storage of a book can quickly transform a new book into a worn or even an unusable one. Proper handling and storage in a stable, cool, clean, non-humid environment, can prolong its life.

The environment around the book, is a major concern because unacceptable levels of temperature and humidity will accelerate deterioration. For example, the high humidity in an attic or basement can promote mold growth, cockle pages, and attract insects. Extremely low humidity, as found above hot radiators, can dry out leather bindings.

Direct sunlight, with a large ultraviolet (UV) component, will fade leather and cloth. Blue leather fades to dull green and red leather to brown, especially along the spine of the book.

Dust, dirt and grime from handling can adversely effect books as well. Many people shelve their books in closed glass cases away from brightly lit windows or damp exterior walls to minimize the amount of dust and grime that will accumulate.

How we handle and use a book contributes to its longevity. If a book will not lay flat, do not use force to open further. The covers should always be supported when the book is open.

Many books are damaged by the habit of pulling the books off the shelf with the head cap or the top of the spine. It is a much better practice to push the two adjoining books inward and remove the book by grasping the spine.

Place similar sized books, next to each other on the shelf vertically, packing them neither too loosely or tightly. This will help to prevent warping of a tall book next to a short book.

The use of paper clips and marking pens to make notations should be discouraged since clips will rust or crimp the pages and pens often bleed through the pages, obscuring text. The folding down of page corners is also damaging as it will often cause the page corner to break off over time.

The practice of using rubber bands or string to tie-up a book should be avoided because both will cut into brittle pages and damage fragile covers. A flat, soft ribbon (such as cotton twill tape), can be used to tie up the books as an immediate and temporary solution. An excellent way to protect fragile books is with a box that is custom made to the dimensions of the book. Books with dry flaking leather covers can be wrapped in paper or polyester jackets to keep the fragments and dirt from transferring to hands, adjoining books and the rest of the pages.

In the past, leather books were treated with a leather dressing; however the application of an oil or leather dressing can have an adverse effect and is, therefore, not recommended.


Additional Information on Specific Topics:

Book Condition Terminology


Care, Handling and Storage of Asian Style Bindings


Emergency Drying Procedures for Water Damaged Collections


Leather Dressing for Books


Preservation Matting and Framing


Preserving Maps and Manuscripts


Preserving Newspapers