Proper Care and Storage of Your Book Collection

Collectible books are much more heavily dependent upon their condition to retain their value than other collectibles, such as coins and precious jewelry. They’re also much more easily damaged . Any damage to a rare book, such as a missing, brittle or torn dust jacket, or water damage to the cover or pages, can slash its value to a fraction of its value in fine to near fine condition.

Storing books in a dry, climate controlled area is by far the most important precaution to keeping them safe and in good condition. This is especially true of rare and highly valuable books.

Conversely, storing books in a garage or workshed is the worst thing you can possibly do. Books and magazines which are stored out of the main house inevitably become damp from the outside humid air. They can begin to breed mold and mildew, and even if these organisms aren’t visible, they can damage the book. Books stored outside also are more subject to insect damage. Too many times I have purchased books or magazines only to discover that they had an offensive odor from having been stored in a garage or shed. If you discover that your books have that bad smell, there are things you can do.

The first is to place them in baking soda or kitty litter. The latter has a very strong smell, so watch out. Leave them in the baking soda or cat litter for some time, at least 24 hours, so that they can absorb the odor. Don’t use this method if you plan to resell the book.

Another option is to hang the books in the sun, on a rack or a clothes line. Be sure to check the weather to make sure it isn’t going to rain before you do this. Also, be sure that the rack or clothesline is clean and dry. Leaving books or magazines out in the sun in this way can help to remove any humidity that the books have absorbed over time. Don’t leave them in the sun too long, or it may damage them.

Also, keep in mind that if someone in your household smokes, the books will absorb the smell. Tobacco smoke is extremely damaging to books, and my recommendation to you is that you stop smoking . However, if you or your family member doesn’t stop smoking, the best thing you can do is establish a separate room to store the books in, and prohibit anyone from smoking in that room. Keep in mind thought that smoke will travel through the ventilation system and the books will still be affected.

The other danger to your books, ironically, is storing them on a shelf for too long. While books which sit on a shelf for a long time tend not to wear, they can become “shelf cocked”. When a book is shelf cocked, it leans over, or the spine becomes twisted so that it will no longer sit or stand flat on the shelf. The best way to remove shelf cocking is to either work the spine, to try to return it to its original shape, or to straighten it up and leave it with a flat heavy object on top of it for a good long while, say a week.

Additionally, it’s important to keep your books sheltered from sunlight. Books that are shelved near a window can receive frequent exposure to light causing them to become faded or “sunned.” So when choosing where to put the bookshelves in your house, select an area in a room that is darkened, or that can be shut off from light exposure by heavy blinds, shutters or curtains.

Never store your books in plastic. Books may appear dry, but they all contain a small amount of moisture. Therefore if you feel that you need to store your books in something, make sure that it’s paper, and that it’s acid-free. Acid is very damaging to books, and is the reason why “pulps” get so brown over time, whereas books printed on acid-free archival paper tend to keep their original color.

Also, especially if you have a rare or valuable book, it’s best to encase its dust jacket in a mylar sleeve. These are readily and cheaply available. Enclose the dust jacket in the sleeve. If the sleeve came with a paper underlay, place it on the underside of the jacket, while the mylar portion should go on top. Especially if your dust jacket is worn or brittle, a mylar sleeve can do wonders to prevent any further damage.

Sources:

“Magazines and Musty Smell.” Vendio

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