Taking Proper Care of Your Books

Ed Carter, October 10, 2021

In this antiintellectual age when science is ignored and curiosity seems limited to 140-word tweets, it’s easy to forget that badly worded, misspelled rants by angry people were not why we learned to read. Assuming that you haven’t converted all your books to digital audio, or ebooks, for many of us the need for physical books remains, especially if you’re even locked down again during a pandemic. Knowing how to care for your favorite folios is important, whether they’re first editions or cheap paperbacks. If properly cared for, they’ll last forever. Author Ed Carter shares some tips on how to maintain your collection.

Shelve with care

There’s an art to shelving books so they’ll remain in good condition, which includes not crowding them onto the shelf, placing them upright rather than stacking them horizontally, and keeping tall books with books of similar sizes rather than mixing heights. It’s simple enough, but lack of care can contribute to the deterioration of the book’s spine. This may mean getting new bookshelves from time to time, or selling back the books you can do without. Whether you shelve alphabetically or color-coordinate is up to you.

Think like an archivist

Books are mostly paper, which will react to changes in temperature and humidity. You don’t need a humidor for your books, but if you live in a wet climate you’d probably need air conditioning or a dehumidifier anyway. Keep bookshelves in cool, dark places, away from moisture, which can damage the covers and the pages.

Sunlight will bleach the books, so if you’ve got bookshelves near windows, pay attention to where the sunlight is brightest throughout the day. You won’t retire on the value of your book collection, but they can devalue quickly without proper care, and you’d probably like to leave them to a grandchild one day. If you simply don’t have a space for storage out of direct light, you can always install some UV blocking film on your windows. This can be tricky to do well, so consider hiring a pro to ensure there are no bubbles and the end result looks nice. Sites like Angi make it easy to connect with reputable professionals who can do the job correctly and efficiently.

Remember also, dust loves books, so you’ll have to dust your books every few weeks, because eventually dust can cause damage.

Box them up

If you don’t have enough shelf space for all your books, consider storing them. However, you’ll need to make sure you store them properly. Never place them in plastic bags, which can trap moisture and ruin the books. Wrap them in acid-free paper, or plain, undyed cloth and keep them sealed and away from the floor, where dirt or insects can get to them.

Treat books with respect

It may be tempting to dog-ear a page to hold your place, or lay the book face down and open when you’re interrupted in the middle of reading, but it’s best to always use a flat bookmark or plain piece of paper to mark your place. Folding down the corners of the pages can really damage a book, and leaving it lying open can hurt the spine.

When you finish the book, check the pages for any bookmarks that might have been left inside, as these can damage the pages if left too long.

Keep away from food

It’s tempting to read while eating at a table. But bread crumbs, soup stains, and greasy fingers should never go near a book. Food stains will likely attract mold, which will ruin the book.

It’s also a good idea to wash your hands before handling the book so the oils from your fingers don’t do any harm.

Keep out of reach of children

Of course you want to encourage your kids to read, so buy them their own books. Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library will send them free ones. In the meantime, they should keep clear of yours, at least until they’re old enough to understand them. That way they’re also old enough to handle them with care. 

If you tend to read the same book over and over–and many book lovers do that–think about buying two copies and putting one up while you read the other. Many collectors utilize this trick to keep their favorite books from becoming worn or ruined.

Books will last for centuries. Years ago, books were an expensive luxury, and anyone who owned them wouldn’t dream of reading while eating a sandwich, and they even wore gloves to handle them. Your books aren’t worth as much, relatively speaking, but they can last as long.

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