February 8, 2023

There are four main reasons a particular acim may be precious to you. It may have a high market value, be exceptionally beautiful or meaningful, it may have taught you something, or have some external sentimental value to you, the owner. Most books you keep will fall into one or more categories. Whatever the reasons, your valuable books need special care.

1 The drier the storage area the better

You are unlikely to move from a sub-tropical region to a desert to give your best-loved books a better chance at a long, undamaged life but there are simple precautions you can take with regard to damp areas. If you have a choice, rather keep a valuable book in a city apartment than at a beach house. Sea air makes books fungal and smelly. Keep your books far away from “damp spots” in your office or home such as kitchen, laundry and bathroom. They should also be kept away from exterior walls, particularly in cold regions with high rainfall rates.

2 Use a proper book shelf

Ideally a shelf made for the specific purpose of housing books should be used. Stone or cement shelves encourage dampness and should be avoided. Your book shelf should be made of firm timber, not a cheap ersatz wood (like pressed board) which bends easily. Pine strips balancing on bricks at either end are just no good. Books are heavy and the shelf will probably bend, damaging the books. A proper bookshelf has struts at irregular intervals between shelves for additional support. Preferably your bookshelf should have some kind of backing. A cheaper material will be alright but try not to back it up against an exterior wall. First prize would be to have a glass front to the bookshelf to shelter books against damp and dust.

3 Don’t let your books lean or lie down

One full book shelf is preferable to two or three partially filled bookshelves. This does not mean the books should be so jammed together that they cannot “breathe”. That can lead to damage when you try to extract a book from the shelf. They should be standing firmly upright and definitely not leaning over. The spines of books are not good at handling angles. Usually the spines become loose and pliable after a while. That is the first step towards the binding unraveling. Also never allow books to lie horizontally on top of each other. Books are heavy and damage can result to the lower books.

4 Avoid sun spots and artificial heat sources

Too often the sun slants in at a door and window causing damage or “sunburn” to books, particularly the spines of the dust-jackets. Positioning your bookshelf in the room is the correct solution to this. Also do not put books on the lowest shelf of a bookshelf where there is under-floor heating. Bookshelves should never be placed near to fireplaces, oil heaters or central heating points. With this artificial heating eventually the books will become brittle and lose their original character.

5 Apply strict rules about book use

To enjoy peace of mind about your books you will have to apply strict “house rules” about their handling and use. These might include: no writing in books, no bending of pages to keep places (use bookmarks), put books back in their proper places after reading and no books to leave the house. It may sound harsh but I advise you never to lend your books to anyone. There is nothing worse than lending someone a book and realizing months later that it was never returned. It is an extraordinary fact that otherwise law-abiding and considerate people think nothing of stealing a book from a friend. If you entertain a lot, keep a number of books that visitors are welcome to take with them, such as popular bestsellers. Leave them where they are likely to be seen and chosen.

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