Anyone with a prized book collection knows not to skim titles with hands sticky with candy or balance a classic on a dirty desk. But that’s just the start of responsible book care.
Learning how and where to store your books is the best thing you can do to preserve your collection as close to new condition as possible. You’ll be able to pass beloved books down to the next generation, family members, or friends knowing you’ve cared for them as best you could.
Invest in a Bookcase
Yes, a bookcase is an ideal location for storing books. That’s because books should stand up horizontally or stacked in small sections to maintain the spine’s integrity. Cupboards with glass doors are also a suitable storage option. Only make sure they are not opposing a window. Don’t store books in plastic boxes.
Be sure not to overstuff your shelves. Sort your books by size. Having a tall book in between two short ones can cause the tall book to warp over time.
Keep Humidity Moderate
The bookcase or cupboard should be in rooms you use regularly. That way, you will know if there is dampness, an insect infestation, or other problem that could degrade the book’s condition.
Besides, basements are too cold, and attics are too hot. You’ll want your books to be in a room that’s of moderate temperate and humidity between 40% and 65%. If the room is too humid, you risk mildew growth. If the room is too dry, you risk drying out leather and vellum covers of vintage books.
Stay Away from Heat and Light
You’ll also want to make sure that your bookcase is well away from heat sources, such as a fireplace or radiator. Of course, wetness is a problem as well. Keep books off the ground and away from windows in case of accidental flooding or drips.
Another reason to stay away from windows is that ultraviolet rays from direct sunlight can bleach the color from book covers. Keep in mind, fluorescent and halogen bulbs can also cause damage. For the best preservation, it’s recommended to switch to incandescent or LED lights near your library.
Handle Stored Books Carefully
There are some debates on where to store books. Experts disagree on whether to push the books back in the case to avoid dust or move them forward to look orderly and allow for air circulation.
If you choose to lay your books horizontal rather than vertical, make sure that you stack books with the spine on alternate sides to avoid the book’s warping.
Some also suggest adding a piece of synthetic felt in between each book to protect covers. Don’t use wool, though; that can attract insects.
Keep books clean with a microfiber duster or a vacuum, and always wash your hands. Never have snacks while you’re reading.
When you’re ready to take a book from your bookcase, you don’t want to pull it out by the top of the spine as it could rip. Instead, push the two surrounding books back and grasp the middle of the book’s spine.
Once the book is off the shelf, cradle it in your hands or lap to open it rather than opening it on a table. Otherwise, you risk flattening the spine and stretching the bindings. You can also use a rolled-up towel bent to support under the cover so that the book doesn’t open all the way.
Finally, if you want to mark pages, use a paper bookmark. Metal or adhesives may damage or stain the pages, reducing your prized possessions’ value and beauty. Please don’t forget to remove the bookmark once you have finished. For more information on bookmarks, check out our blog piece on bookmarking.
Don’t forget to come back to read Part 2 on this blog topic, when we speak with Shaykh Muhammad al-Yaqoubi to discuss the in’s and out’s of organising your Islamic books.