How To Preserve Old Books in 4 Easy Steps

Sonia Akavan
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“Be careful, you’ll break the spine.”

Have you ever heard that said? Have you said it? Did you know that book spines can actually be preserved so that you can still break them?

The reason books require special handling is that the paper used to print the inks contain acid which will deteriorate the binding (the hard cover) of a book as it ages.

To counter this effect, you can store your books in a plastic bag, squeezing as much air out as you can before sealing the bag.

There are two types of plastic bags that you can use: Ziploc-type bags and vacuum-seal bags. Ziploc-type bags allow you to remove books without much fuss, but will not thoroughly remove all the air in the bag. Vacuum-sealed bags have a better chance of keeping the books dry, but you usually cannot pull them out without breaking the seal.

It really depends on your preference of convenience over quality.

You can also store your books in free standing metal or wood shelves that are open enough to remove books without pulling out all air. You can find these in book stores.

Another way to preserve books is to create a book press. It’s basically a flattened-out box that can be closed to squeeze in the air. This, however, is a little more complicated to create and to maintain.

The environment matters

You don’t need to be an avid book collector to understand the importance of taking care of the environment. You just need to be a typical book user.

Taking care of books is not difficult. You just need to know a few basics. The most important is to keep the books away from direct sunlight and moisture. Books survive best in dark, dry spaces.

I’ve tried using special book covers in the past, but I wasn’t very pleased with them. They were difficult to put on and take off quickly, and the covers were heavy and sometimes crinkled the book pages.

A much simpler solution is adequate light protection for the books. That can be anything from a simple piece of cardboard to a paper bag.

When you wrap a book, be gentle and handle the pages with care. You can use paper towels that you get from the local grocery store, newsprint, or kraft paper.

I have found that the easiest way to wrap a book is to place it face down. Then, simply wrap the cover a few extra times and tape it up.

For a more elegant finish, you can use a printed paper. Use a ruler to keep the paper straight. Fold the paper over the top, press it down, and tape it to the spine.

Proper Storage

“No tree, no life.” A beautiful piece of art on your shelf can give pleasure for years if proper care is given. But if you don’t care for your books in the right way, you could find the colors you added so carefully fading away in a matter of months.

”If you care for your books properly,” says Sara Peyton, who is an archivist and head of conservation at the Yale University Library, ”maybe the book will even outlive you.”

”That’s the hope,” she says, ”that great works will last through time.”

Use a good bookcovering.

Think about a book that has been on the shelf for a long time. It is probably not in the best shape. There is no doubt that at least one of its covers has cracked and is not holding the contents completely together anymore.

”The cover is what holds it all together,” explains Peyton.

First, find an acid free paper that’s 80 pounds or more and never use tape or glue –use paper clips instead.

Keeping them clean

Should you allow your children to read old books or is it better to hold on to them?

Keeping them in as good a condition as possible will make them seek your library. Just keep them clean and give them out, one at a time.

First, you need to check that the covers are in acceptable condition. Dust and dirt can cause stains, and the more you handle them, the greater the chance of damage.

Take a look inside. If the book smells musty or unpleasant, it may need to be aired.

The pages inside must be crisp to the touch, free of stains, and free of markings.

To preserve the book, lay it flat when you store it between uses. This is key.

Keep it out of direct sunlight. Store it in a cool, dry place.

Books tend to grow mildew when damp. If they grow mold or mildew, you should toss the book.

Last Step: Actually enjoy them

Preserving old books may seem like a daunting task if you’re not familiar with the subject. Stepping into an antique shop or visiting a secondhand bookstore can be an exhilarating experience, or, as other people might say, a haven for the “book hoarder”.

You may find yourself asking two questions: How to Store Old Books? And How to Preserve Old Books?

There are plenty of ways to do both of these, from creative DIY solutions to long-term storage methods.

You can try to build a type of shelf or storage unit, or you can opt for a more commercial solution, such as wrapping and binding your books, or drop-off services to preserve the books in a safe manner.

Although it’s not as common as keeping books in a personal collection, there are many ways to safely store your books, and prolong their life.

Here are some of the best and most practical ways to store books and ensure they stay in excellent condition.