how best to care for old and cherished books?
August 27, 2012 5:08 AM   Subscribe

I need a more in-depth guide on the proper care of my old (1800-1960) books. I know the basics, (no sun, no moisture, no dirty hands) but I have some questions whose answers I cannot find.

Plastic covers: good, bad, or indifferent? I only recently discovered these, and I worry about their lack of breathability.

Upright or sidelying? Most sources seem to recommend upright storage but I've seen a few that said sidelying. I prefer upright for display purposes, but I notice that the part of the cover which extends past the pages starts to crumple and tear from gravity after a while. Is there a way to prevent this?

Fraying cloth covers- what, if anything, can I do? Ditto for filthy dirty cloth covers, torn pages, minor foxing, and other small repairs that aren't severe enough to visit a bookbinder.

Dusting the books- what's the safest way?

How often should I check for mildew, bugs, etc?

I'm not concerned about the resale value of these books (they have little or none) and I'm willing to have them rebound if neccessary, but I deeply cherish these books and would like to preserve them in as close to original condition as possible, while still being able to read them (and sometimes just pore over them like Scrooge counting his money...)and part of what I love about them is their covers, so rebinding as few as possible, now and in the future, is my preference.
posted by windykites to Grab Bag (5 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
A couple of things we tried to do when I worked in the Fine and Rare book room:

1. Wear white cotton gloves while reading the books. Clean hands are good, but you can still transfer oil from your hand to the book.

2. When pulling the books off the shelves, try not to pull the book out by the spine. I'd try to lay a finger along the top of the book and via friction, pull the book out enough to get my other fingers on the cover of the book.

3. Do your best not to open the book past (I think) 90-120 degrees. Definitely never lay the book flat. We had special stands with a big V notch made up so that the reader could lay the book down, but it would not lay flat. This also helps with minimizing handling of the book.

Good luck! Old books are a treasure.
posted by dforemsky at 5:43 AM on August 27, 2012

RBMS has a page called "Your Old Books" that includes tips about this:

13. How can I keep my books in good condition?

Books are damaged by light and by fluctuations and extremes in temperature and humidity. It is best to store them in a cool, comfortably dry, stable environment with low or indirect lighting. Most basements, garages, and attics are too hot, too damp, or too variable to provide good storage conditions. Avoid shelving books where they will be exposed to direct sunlight. Do not wrap books in newspaper or plastic or store them in cardboard boxes. Acid in the cardboard and in newsprint will damage books. Plastic wrappers, because they restrict air circulation, can promote the growth of mold or mildew. Furthermore, some plastics degrade over time and fuse to the materials they are touching. Store large books, such as atlases, bound newspapers, or art folios, flat on shelves rather than standing vertically. Never use adhesive tape to repair torn pages or a binding because it yellows with age and leaves a nasty residue. You can buy various types of protective enclosures for storing older or fragile books. See question fourteen below, and the Web site appendix, for suggestions on further reading and contact information for distributors of archival supplies.

posted by pepper bird at 7:45 AM on August 27, 2012

Apparently the white glove vs. frequent handwashing thing is controversial.

The National Library of Scotland has some suggestions about how to dust books, as well as suggesting that anything other than large folio-size books should be stored upright on shelves. I bet if you contacted them directly (or the nice folks at the US LoC Preservation Directorate) they could help you further.

Here are some more details about shelving.

One thing I have seen to minimize dust is bookshelves with glass doors. This is a fancy touch, but of course depends on your space and budget. Cheap example here, more expensive examples abound. (Or if you're handy you can buy cut glass and the hardware and do it yourself.)
posted by Wretch729 at 7:47 AM on August 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Also following the links from pepper bird's link above brough me to the NDCC site that has lots of pamphlets on preservation. The section on storage and handling is relevant to your question, and they suggest 2x a year as an inspection schedule.
posted by Wretch729 at 8:05 AM on August 27, 2012 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: That NDCC link has pretty much the exact in-depth info I needed. Thanks!
posted by windykites at 11:30 AM on August 27, 2012

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