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Caring for Your Books, Papers, and Photographs at Home


Have your own books, papers, and photographs seen better days? Or do you simply wonder how you can best take care of these things so they last as long as they can? The New York Public Library can help!

The NYPL recently took part in the American Library Association's Preservation Week, a national event to draw attention to the importance of preserving and caring for cultural materials everywhere. The NYPL participated by hosting several programs, including a series of presentations for the public on caring for your own collections at home.

NYPL conservators presented Caring for your Home Photo and Paper-Based Collections, which provided tips and tricks to make your books, papers, and photos last. In case you missed the presentation, here are some of the top DOs and DON'Ts for caring for your home collections:

For Books and Paper Documents

  • DO keep your books and documents in a stable, moderate environment. A good rule of thumb is that if you're comfortable, so are your books. Room temperature, around 70 degrees, and a moderate relative humidity, around 50%, is best. Try not to store your books or paper in attics (too hot) or basements (too moist). Too much heat or moisture can speed up deterioration or encourage mold growth.
  • DO keep your books away from direct sunlight. Ultraviolet and visible light can speed up the deterioration of paper and cause fading or discoloration.
  • DO clean your books regularly by dusting with a clean, dry, soft cloth. Simply hold the book closed and wipe the covers and edges. Vacuuming with a soft brush can also safely remove loose dust.
  • DO shelve books upright, and support them with bookends so they won't slump. If you have oversize or large, heavy volumes that don't fit upright on the shelf, store them flat rather than on the spine or edges.
  • DON'T put your bookshelves along exterior walls, where they may experience temperature and humidity changes. Try to place them along interior walls.
  • DON'T use oil or leather dressing on your leather bindings. Contrary to previously held opinions, oil or leather dressing doesn't keep leather supple, and it can actually cause staining and other deterioration as the oil or dressing ages. Wiping with a soft, dry, clean cloth is best.
  • DON'T repair damaged covers or torn paper with pressure-sensitive adhesive tapes, i.e. "Scotch" tape. Often repairs done with even the best of intentions can cause worse damage over time.

For Photographs

  • DO follow the same recommendations for books and papers above by keeping photos in a stable, moderate environment. Keeping original photographs in cooler, dryer, dark storage is even better.
  • DO keep photographs in protective enclosures, like sleeves (made of polyester or polyethylene), acid-free boxes, or albums.
  • DO make copies of photographs to share or display, protecting originals from excessive handling and light exposure.
  • DO keep photographs in their original format. For older photographs, such as those on metal or glass, or mounted on cards, don't remove them from their cases or mounts.
  • DON'T touch the surface of a photograph. Photographic emulsions are particularly fragile.
  • DON'T handle a photograph without a protective enclosure, or around food, drinks, children, or pets.
  • DON'T use tapes to repair photographs, or try to fix or clean them yourself.

Finally, DO consider hiring a qualified conservator to repair any of your important or valuable collections. A good resource is the American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works (AIC). Their web page has excellent information about what to expect from a conservator and how to find one in your area.

If you missed the presentations, worry not! Preservation Week is an annual event, and the NYPL will make these public presentations again next Spring. In the meantime, watch for the next post from Preservation on caring for your media collections and digital files!


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books for sale

I have over 200 books that I collected as a former teacher. Most are vintage children's book Can you tell me where I can get an idea of their value and possible places for their sale or donation. I would like to distribute this collection, as my children do not want to inherit it and I am an aging senior.

Children's Books

I've been an antiquarian book collector and dealer for close to twenty-five years and would be glad to help you either evaluate your collection or put you in touch with a dealer closer by who could help you with the same. Looking forward to hearing from you...

good initiative for preservation of book and archive

Thank you Shelly for your guidelines. It helps to preserve a lot of archives outside museums or archives.

Placing book collections

I have books by feminists of the second wave and woul like to find a home for them . I also have a collection of second wave lasian literature I would to find a home for.

Thank you, for sharing this

Thank you, for sharing this valuable information. Your guidelines for preservation of documents and photographs were written in a clear and concise language making them easy to implement.

Fixing paper tears...what is the proper way?

You have warned about using Scotch tape to repair torn pages and papers. What do you suggest? Thank you!

Fixing paper tears

Acid-free mending tape is recommnended. I use it for my sheet music. One brand is "filmoplast P" from Germany. Try at Talas on lower Broadway, the University Products catalog (MA), any book bindery, or ask advice from Strand Bookstore Special Collections.

Just an addition - I use

Just an addition - I use masking tape to repair tears on dusk jacket. And i sealed my signed books in a ziplock.

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