Caring for Books

Printer-friendly version

Children's books are particularly perishable objects: spines can break, boards can warp, edges can tear and fray, cloth can fade and deteriorate in sunlight, paper can stain from acids, and molds can start up with heat and humidity.


Your book collection should be stored away from direct sunlight, away from cold walls and drafts, at a relative humidity of 45-55% in constantly cool house temperatures. Books should be dusted or gently vacuumed frequently. Place your books straight on the shelf or flat with no pressure on the spines and with even pressure on the boards to prevent splaying. Place similarly sized books near each other to avoid splaying. Large oblong books are a problem. I store them flat. When you first get the book, remove bookmarks, clippings, and other stray objects, and clean the boards and pages. Never store a box of books on a concrete floor.

Preventive purchasing

Never purchase a book with indications of mold. Look in the inner hinges and peer down along the spine. Open random pages and smell the gutter. Always remove the jacket and look at the back of it before you buy a book. Mold can be white (usually under jackets), or dark (near the spine). Dark spots near the outside margin are probably dirt. If you get a moldy book in the mail, return it. No questions should be asked and postage should be paid both ways. If it is not worth the trouble to try and return the book, throw it away or soak the moldy parts with bleach. Bleach will eventually eat up the paper, but you'll have time to read it at least. Don't put moldy books near your good books.


Teach your children (I'm being tactful here!) to handle a book with clean hands and to take a book off the shelf by grasping both sides or reaching above and around to the front corners, not by pulling on the spine top. Remove a book with decorated boards or a cover plate by gently pushing aside the adjacent books so there is no rubbing. Cradle an old book in one hand, opened to a less than 180 degree angle and, of course never place an open book upside down. If it is someone else's book, or if you are at a book fair, it's thoughtful to hold the book over a counter so that just in case it drops, it won't fall far. Turn the pages gently from the upper right hand corner. In this business, I see books which have clearly been read many times, but which have remained in nice condition through respectful handling.

Protecting the jacket or binding

Protect jackets with clear archival covers available from library supply companies like Highsmith or Brodart or from large bookstores. Do not use the kind with dark paper edges, or the kind that meet in the middle: eventually these damage the book and jacket. Unfortunately, the stiff clear mylar which booksellers use on fine books without jackets comes in long rolls, besides being expensive and very hard to cut. As a substitute, remove the white paper from an archival jacket protector and make a clear cover, loose enough to allow for airflow. If your collection is large enough you will want to purchase archival acid free tape from a library supply house to keep large tears from worsening and to tape home made-covers. Don't ever use Scotch tape on a book or jacket, or apply any tape directly to a book!

Repairing your books

With valuable books, it is best to leave repair to a professional. You should only use temporary measures. Placing a jacket in an archival protector will keep any tears from getting worse. A page with a long tear that threatens to come lose can be repaired with archival, and only archival, tape. A detached page can be placed in an archival sleeve (made out of book protector material) so that the edges will not fray. If you have very steady hands, you can repair a detached plate on your own book using reversible glue so that the edges will not fray, but practice first. Books with very loose bindings should be stored flat, not upright, so they don't become more slanted. You can do some erasing of light pencil marks using an art gum or a white eraser, but never the eraser on a pencil end. For other hints see the section on repairing ex-libraries at the bottom of Bargain Basement Books /catalogues-lists/bargain-basement-books

Books are preferred in their original condition, so think carefully before you arrange for restoration of an extremely rare book. Extensive repair, like rebacking, may lower the book's value. On the other hand, if you want to strengthen a family book so that it can be handled and read, the amount of restoration is really up to you.