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Dos and Don’ts for Taking Care of Your Personal Books at Home

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There is no better time to take care of your home library than when it's getting cold and dark outside. Shelly Smith, NYPL's Head of Conservation Treatment, shares tips on how to keep your treasured books in shape.

Learn more about NYPL's Preservation Division


Shelly SmithShelly SmithDOs

  • DO keep your books 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 (though even cooler is better), and a moderate stable relative humidity (around 40-50%) is best.  Too much heat or moisture can speed up deterioration or encourage mold growth.  Try not to store your books in attics, which can become too hot, or basements, which can become too moist.
     
  • DO keep your books away from direct sunlight and other high intensity light.  Ultraviolet and visible light can speed up the deterioration of paper and cause fading or discoloration of the vibrant colors of book covers or dust jackets.
     
  • DO clean your books regularly by dusting.  Simply hold the book closed and wipe the covers and edges with a plain soft cloth.  Vacuuming books with a soft brush attachment can also safely remove loose dust.
     
  • DO shelve your books upright, and support them with bookends so they won’t slump or become misshapen.  If you have oversize or large, heavy volumes that don’t fit upright on the shelf, store them flat rather than on their spine or fore edge (side opposite spine).
     
  • DO hire a qualified conservator to repair your important or valuable volumes.  A good resource is the American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works (AIC).  Its web page has excellent information about what to expect from a conservator and how to find one in your area.  AIC also has a referral service that can help you find conservators in your area.

DON'Ts

  • DON’T put your bookshelves along exterior walls, where they may experience more temperature and humidity changes.  Try to place them along interior walls.
     
  • DON’T repair damaged covers or paper with pressure-sensitive adhesive tape (the type of tape readily available in office supply, craft, and drug stores).  Often this type of repair, done with even the best of intentions, can cause more damage over time.
     
  • DON’T use oil or leather dressing on your leather bindings.  Contrary to previously held opinion, oil or leather dressing doesn’t keep leather supple, and it can actually cause deterioration to the volume as the oil or leather dressing ages.  Simply wiping leather bindings with a plain soft cloth is best.
     
  • DON’T pull on the top of the spine when removing books from shelves. This can cause the top of the book’s spine to break and detach over time. Instead, push back books on either side and grasp the volume you want to remove at the middle of the spine and pull to remove from the shelf.
     
  • DON’T use self-stick notes, paper clips or rubber bands.  Self-stick notes leave a sticky residue that is not good for paper. Paper clips can rust over time and rubber bands can tear pages or, as they decay, even stick to the book.  Instead, use a slip of acid-free paper as a bookmark.

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