A rare book collection is a wonderful thing to have. Curating your own library of special titles is a magnificent joy.
However, like all material things, rare books begin to disintegrate over time. This can be alarming, especially if you have invested a considerable amount in your collection.
Her are some tips for caring for your rare books and keeping them in tip-top shape for as long as possible.
Shelve books of a similar size together, so that each book will be adequately supported by its neighbor on either side.
Never allow a book to lean unsupported, especially if it’s a heavier book.
Do not pack your shelves too tightly, but allow some “breathing” room on either side. Packing too tightly can compress the books and damage the covers, not to mention it greatly increases the chances of accidentally damaging a book when trying to remove it from the shelf.
Lastly, large folio-sized books or books of unique shape should be stored flat, away from the floor. It’s preferable that they also be kept on shelves at waist-level to avoid accidentally kicking or tripping over the corners and causing a great deal of damage to the book (not to mention your toes!).
Handle with Care
It’s a natural impulse to grab a book by its spine when taking it off the shelf, but doing so will cause a fragile spine to rip. Instead, gently nudge the book out of its place by the edges.
Displaying a book open at 180 degrees will also damage the spine. If you are going to display a book open, support the covers of an opened book with a prop to decrease the opening angle.
Oil and residue from your fingers will also damage the paper and may cause staining, so be sure your hands are clean or wear gloves when handling rare, old, and fragile books.
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Direct sunlight is very bad for the longevity of your books. It will bleach the spine and papers and can increase the acid content of the paper.
Store your books away from direct sunlight in a temper-controlled room.
If a room is too hot and dry, leather bindings will become brittle and crack. (Books should also be kept away from heat sources like radiators and fireplaces for this reason.)
However, a damp, cool place will spur the growth of mold and mildew. Ideally, your books should be kept in a place of moderate temperature (about 66 degrees, with 40% relative humidity) with a steady circulation of clean air.
Cleaning Rare Books
Dust accumulates quickly and should be removed from your rare books regularly. Dust can be an incubation area for mold and mildew, which can weaken, stain, and greatly reduce the value of your books. It also encourages the infestation of harmful insects like silverfish and bookworms who love munching on books and creating irreparable damage.
Never use chemical cleaners on your books. To remove the dust, hold the book closed and away from you and brush the dust off the covers, spine, and text block using a soft, natural fiber brush or micro-fiber cloth.
It’s also wise to avoid using canned air dusters, as the force of the air can damage the fragile paper and bindings.
With a little forethought and some tender, loving care your book collection will be preserved and able to be enjoyed for many, many years to come!