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How to Preserve & Store Rare Books

Do you consider yourself the bibliophile among your friends? If so, you likely possess an entire personal library of rare and first-edition books that you only pull out to admire or show off to guests. We know that you’ve inherited or searched far and wide for these treasures and want to ensure they remain intact.  

Fortunately, not only are we your local cleaning experts, but we’re also connoisseurs of helping you care for the things most dear to you. Below are tips to help you preserve and store antique books, so you can pass down these gems for decades to come.  

How to Protect Old Books 

Keep Out of Direct Sunlight 

Your precious and rare books should always be kept out of direct sunlight, as UV rays can cause “sunning.” When books are exposed to light, they can trigger a chemical reaction in the paper that causes irreversible damage. Older books, especially made of papyrus, parchment, or vellum, are extremely fragile and should be kept out of sunlight as much as possible to reduce deterioration. 

Avoid Areas with Lots of Moisture 

Moisture and paper don’t go together. Now, imagine your first editions being exposed to a moist environment. We can guarantee you nothing good will come of it. Avoid placing bookshelves that house your rare books next to vents or radiators or storing them in areas prone to leaks, like basements or attics. An optimal environment for these delicate items should be in a space with a relative humidity level between 44% and 55% so that the pages don’t dry out or get damp.  

Avoid Eating or Drinking Around Old Books 

You may think you’re being careful when it comes to food and drink around antique reading material, but you can never be too cautious. If you’re showing friends and family your antique treasures at a dinner party, avoid areas with food or a curious loved one carrying around a plate or a wine glass. All it takes is one slip up, and your one-of-a-kind gem is destroyed.  

Handle as Little as Possible 

You may not know it, but you constantly touch your face and transfer oils from your skin to your fingers. If you were to handle your first editions frequently, you risk damaging them with your natural oils. It can be extremely tempting to pull these antiques out, flip through, and admire them, but you want to try to handle them as little as possible. The Library of Congress recommends that if you’re handling old books, make sure to wash and dry your hands thoroughly to remove any dirt or oil. You may also want to nix the idea of purchasing gloves to handle antique books, as they could do more harm than good.  

Dust Regularly 

This is likely not a problem, as you’re frequently dusting and performing other housekeeping tasks throughout your home to keep it tidy and clean. Dander and dirt that collects on shelves where your antique books are displayed can cause damage, so weekly dusting with a soft paintbrush, a microfiber cloth, or magnetic dusting cloth is ideal. You’ll want to make sure whatever you’re using to dust is gentle and will remove unwanted particles instead of just moving them around.  

How to Store Rare Books 

Store Books in an Acid-Free Box 

Nine times out of ten, if you have rare first-edition books, they’re extremely fragile and need constant care. When you don’t have time to devote to these gems, storing them can be an ideal option that protects their integrity. But before you head to your local store for a plastic storage bin, consider searching for an acid-free archival book box instead. Amazon has several options to choose from, but we recommend Lineco’s museum storage archival box to store your old books safely.  

Rent a Temperature-Controlled Storage Unit 

If you’re a collector of antique books, you may have run out of room on your shelves for all of your rare finds, making the need for storage vital. Moisture, heat, and old books just don’t mix, and one of the ways to protect them is to rent a temperature-controlled storage unit.  

Benefits of storing your old books in a temperature-controlled unit include: 

  • Protection against extreme weather 

  • Great air quality 

  • Additional dust barrier 

  • Added peace of mind 

Check On Your Antique Books 

“Out of sight, out of mind” shouldn’t be the mentality when it comes to your rare books. Storing old books for an indefinite period may save you extra time not having to care for them frequently, but you should still check on these delicate items to ensure they’re intact. The worst thing you could do is forget about them while they sit in storage and an unforeseen crisis occurs, putting your old books at risk of damage.  

Wrap Books Carefully for Storing 

Some antique hardcover books may already come with dust jackets that nominally protect them from the elements. However, dust jackets aren’t designed to safeguard older books during storage. Carefully wrapping your rare books in acid-free paper and tying them with cotton twill tape or ribbon to prepare them for long-term storage will help keep moisture and pests out.  

A few materials you should avoid using to wrap old books include: 

  • Newspaper – Avoid using newspapers for wrapping because the ink could transfer to your books, and newspapers contain acid, which could severely damage them.  

  • Plastic wrap – Plastic can create static that attracts dust that can damage your already delicate books and even create an optimal environment for mold and mildew growth.  

Avoid Packing Too Tightly 

Books, like most things in storage, need a little breathing room. Packing these rare treasures too tightly could result in moisture getting trapped between the pages. Airflow is key to reducing mold. You can use packing peanuts or bubble wrap to create space between your antique books and give them room to breathe.  

Our team members have experience cleaning spaces that require a little TLC and a gentle touch. Allow cleaning professionals at Merry Maids® to help give you peace of mind about your delicate keepsakes.  

Call (888) 490-4227 to find your local office and get a cleaning estimate today.