Book care and storage

Volumes of issues in book care? bound to be.
Storage of books can be tricky, they are made from a number of materials, in an infinite number of sizes, and worst of all - people want to actually look at them, perhaps not such a surprise, but it makes things a little more challenging. (Warning; may contain text that is disturbing for librarians)

A cover, from cover to cover

drop spine clamshell box

Because of the risks presented by UV light, pests, acid migration and handling, it’s necessary to protect valuable or fragile books with an archival quality enclosure.

Aside from offering protection from the aforementioned adversaries (UV light, dust, pests, clumsy humans) a bespoke box also offers the book complete support. You can make a bespoke box from box board, or you can save yourself a lot of time, hassle, and money, and order an archival quality bespoke box from

The most suitable box design for book storage is an archival clamshell box (see image: right) with a ‘drop spine’. Whilst offering excellent protection, the design also allows the box to open fully, with the bottom / spine / top, all able to lay flat on a surface. This provides easy access to the contents as the spine doesn’t get in the way.

An alternative to a bespoke box would be our adjustable book storage box (click here to view) which wraps the book in 450gsm board. These are ordered in two sections to fit the height and width of the book, encasing it completely and offering support and protection. If you have a number of books to store, which aren’t all the same size, order sections to fit the largest book and trim them for the smaller ones.

If you are simply looking for something to cover a book on a shelf, to offer it a little more protection, consider polyester dust jackets. You can make these yourself using clear 36micron polyester film. The dust jacket not only protects the book it’s applied to, but can also be used to prevent the spread of red rot. An advantage of using polyester over tissue paper or other material being that the book’s spine is still visible, so can be used in display applications if required.

Health on the shelf

drop spine clamshell box When collections are stored on shelves, whether that be in a library, or on display in a stately home, it’s important to follow some simple rules to keep the collection healthy.
  • Only shelve books that are in good condition or are not of any special value, if a book is fragile or particularly valuable, then a shelf is probably not the best place for it, unless it’s boxed.
  • Books should be supported completely, front to back and vertically. This means that they shouldn’t overhang the edges of the shelf and should be placed next to others of an equal size. Placing a small book next to a larger book can cause uneven pressure on the larger book which in time could cause it to contort. Book covers can become detached if not fully supported, especially if a book has been shelved ‘spine-up’ allowing the text block to pull away from the cover.
  • Wood’s no good. Wooden shelving can be acidic and should generally be covered if used to prevent acid-migration. A sheet of inert polyester can be laid on the shelf to protect books, without being visually intrusive.
  • Don’t overfill shelves. Packing books in so tightly that they are difficult to access is a recipe for disaster. You need to be able to comfortably push books in and out to ensure best handling procedures are possible. If access to the sides of the book isn’t possible due to the tightness of the shelf, laziness (and we’re all guilty of it) could lead to volumes being pulled at the headcap (see image: right, *collective librarian gasps), and neighbouring books can abrade the binding, causing permanent damage.

Be supportive, books get stressed too

Correct support of books is crucial to good handling. Books like being tugged at their headcap as much as we enjoy being carried by our ears. As much damage could be done in one minute’s worth of poor handling as a book may have faced since it was bound. When removing a fragile or valuable book from a box or a shelf, it’s important that the weight is supported consistently to the surface on which it is placed.

book support sofaForcing or allowing a book to open too far is one of the most common reasons for damaged bindings. In more recent history, photo-copying and flat-bed scanning have been top of the list of culprits. But in heavier volumes, the weight of the text block can be enough to force and stress-damage the bindings. It’s always safest to use a cradle, cushion or book sofa when viewing to prevent such stress from occurring.

The Norfolk Book Sofa see image; right, was invented for this very reason. Developed by Norfolk Record Office, the Norfolk book sofa allows a wide range of book sizes and thicknesses to be correctly supported and adjusts as the weight of the text block shifts during viewing.

For convenience we’ve also designed custom sized book supports for our portfolio boxes. These supports are stored in the box with the book and provide the ideal level of elevation to prevent damage.

Of course, the usual handling rules apply to books as they do many other objects, clean hands, or gloves should be worn to prevent the transfer of oils from the body onto any surfaces touched.

Getting the environment right

As with all preservation settings, book storage should be carefully monitored to ensure that both temperature and humidity are stable and within accepted ranges.
Simple issues, such as pushing books or bookcases tightly back against a wall, could cause air to become trapped and allow for mould and mildew to grow. You can read more about managing storage environments in our posts;
When dealing with valuable or rare books we always advise asking the advice of a professional conservator who will be able to help with all aspects of storage, handling and repair.

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