What should I know about long-term maintenance of a large library of personal books?
April 3, 2011 11:09 PM   Subscribe

What should I know about long-term maintenance of a large library of personal books?

I'm starting to amass a large personal library of mostly non-fiction from buying books over the years (1000+ at the moment). I would like to one day pass it on to someone. But before that, I'd like to see them last for a long time (as I'm still in my 20s). What are some tips for maintaining it?
posted by ollyollyoxenfree to Home & Garden (10 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: An obvious one- take care of (or, if you're renting, make sure your landlord takes care of) dampness in the walls. My parents let mold spread into the room where I kept many books and I've ended up hoping for the best and using a HEPA vacuum cleaner on them, but am still slightly dubious about keeping them. They will probably smell a little more musty than they should from now on, in the least. Also, mice. Not that much of a pest, but still something to watch out for.
posted by Hactar at 11:20 PM on April 3, 2011

Best answer: I still have several thousand books, unfortunately, even after dumping several thousand others. I seriously do not recommend this as a lifestyle choice. It has a dramatic impact on how much space you have, how much you pay for living space, and your ability to move.

Collectors often feel they're building something for posterity. It's what women buying couture think. It's what game collectors think. They all want to give their collections to a museum or to their kids. The chances this will happen are slim, and the extra cost of acquiring a semi-rare book at the time you actually need it is usually preferable to paying the cost of keeping hundreds more non-rare books on hand on the chance some will become rare.

So to answer your question head on, I think the best way to maintain your library is to digitize it per this AskMe thread or with something like this. Otherwise, keep your books out of sunlight. Watch out for mold, moisture/humidity, and silverfish. Store them standing up with nothing on top. Remove any foreign bits of paper inside that may be more acidic (bookmarks, index cards, etc.). And invest in archival-quality mylar covers for books with nice dustjackets. If you can't get covers exactly the right size, comic bags cut and taped to fit snugly around the book work OK.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 12:00 AM on April 4, 2011 [5 favorites]

Best answer: Keep them away from small children.
posted by Sys Rq at 12:15 AM on April 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

An uncle of mine had an awesome book collection and willed it to nearby major university. After he died they sent someone over and said thanks but no thanks. My cousins and I took what we wanted, the rest went off to auction.
posted by mareli at 3:40 AM on April 4, 2011

Best answer: Do not double shelve. If you need to double shelve, you are keeping more books than you can handle and the books can't breathe. Store books close enough together so that they support each other but not so close together that you can't comfortably get your fingers in between them when you need to get one off the shelf. Never pull a book off the shelf by pulling the top of the spine. Oh, and shelf books next to books of similar size. Don't put coffee-table books next to mass-market paperbacks.

And remember that books like the same kind of temperatures/humidities as you do, only they're pickier. That means no garages, no attics, no storage units, and you run the air conditioner/heater/humidifier/dehumidifier when appropriate.

I'm with Monsieur Caution, though; I don't think it's worth it. I managed to nip my collecting habit in the bud and it has certainly made every one of my moves much easier, given me more space to live in for less money, and allowed a leaky ceiling to be an annoyance rather than a crisis. I'd say I prefer to leave the collecting to the professionals, but I'm a librarian so I guess I'm kind of one of the professionals.

Oh, and never live near the beach.
posted by mskyle at 4:28 AM on April 4, 2011

Avoid direct sunlight and do not store books in a damp or humid environment.
posted by mlis at 6:58 AM on April 4, 2011

Dehumidifier might be a good idea.

On a side note I have to agree with 'Monsieur Caution'. Unless you have rare items, there's a good chance that no one will want them.
posted by WizKid at 9:00 AM on April 4, 2011

Best answer: Keep 'em dry. Dust them regularly and keep the shelves dusted. Shelve them upright, not on their sides or spines (and esp. not on their fronts). When removing them from the shelf, pull them off using your thumb/forefinger on either side of the spine instead of hooking your finger over the top to tug at the top of the spine. Shelve out of direct sunlight if you can. Watch out for pets, small kids, and indiscriminate coffee drinkers. Weed at least once a year and get rid of the ones you no longer like/use.

I second (third? fourth?) the advice to re-think having a big collection -- moving them is a huge pain, finding a place to live with enough space can be a true challenge, and when you're done with them don't count on the collection being of interest to anyone else. Only keep what you use and find personally valuable.
posted by hms71 at 9:10 AM on April 4, 2011

Best answer: I often hear the "keep them dry" advice, but you have to watch out for the opposite as well. My father-in-law kept his 2000+ volume library in a steam heated NYC apt for 45 year. I've lived in the same apartment for the last two years, and I can tell you that the dryness of the air in winter is intense. When he died two years ago, we had three different appraisers/book dealers take a look at his collection and tell us the same thing. It was an amazing collection, and he had some rare and unusual things, but the condition made them nearly worthless. Many of the old, delicate books (18th and 19th century) would almost crumble under your fingers as you tried to turn pages. Any glue that had been used had released in most instances, so the spines and covers were coming apart. Years of hot dry air in the winter had really taken a toll. I think for long term storage, you have keep humidity in a sweet spot.
posted by kimdog at 10:50 AM on April 4, 2011

Best answer: Keep a catalogue.

A friend of a friend lost her entire collection in the Queensland floods. It was heartbreaking, but not so heartbreaking as it would have been if she hadn't been keeping an online catalogue of all her books out of sheer nerdery. Her friends were able to co-ordinate an online campaign to replace them. She ended up being mailed copies of the books from all over the world in the exact same editions she'd owned them.
posted by the latin mouse at 9:44 AM on April 7, 2011

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