Preserve your rare books

Setting up and Maintaining Your Home Library.

Dear reader,

Like everyone, you will probably have paper books in your home, some of them old and precious.

As a collector of rare books, your goal is to keep your collection in optimum shape. You’re careful with dust jackets and protect fragile books with clamshell cases. Even the way you shelve your rare books can impact their condition. It’s important that your home library provides the support and protection that rare books need.

Umberto Eco's Personal Library

Umberto Eco could use a few of these tips in his personal library!

Building Your Library from the Ground Up
Serious collectors know not to let their rare books come into contact with just any old paper, as  paper can contain harmful chemicals and acids. But what about the shelves themselves? We often assume that any bookshelf is fine for our books, but choosing the right shelving materials will help you preserve your books even more effectively:

  • Institutional libraries don’t use metal shelves because they’re less expensive. The ideal material for shelves themselves is actually metal, coated with a baked enamel finish.
  • If metal shelves aren’t an option, coat your wooden shelves with a proper sealant to prevent acids from seeping into your books from the wood. The best options are a water-based aliphatic urethane or a clear two-coat epoxy finish.
  • Wood dries out as it ages, and the chemicals often used to treat wood also dissipate over time. If your books are housed in an extremely old wooden bookcase, they’re likely safe from damage.
  • In locations with high humidity, consider ventilated shelving. The additional air circulation can help prevent the growth of mold and mildew.

Storing Rare Books Properly
It’s important to store rare books with care; rubbing, pulling, and pushing can all cause unnecessary damage and decrease the value of rare books and manuscripts. It’s easy to simply place books on the shelves straight up and down, but that isn’t always the best position for your books.

  • Avoid letting books slouch on the shelf. Any book with a spine wider than three inches, or taller than 18 inches, should be laid flat. The bindings of these books sometimes cannot support the spine, weakening the spine, warping the covers, and damaging the pages.
  • Do not stack these books more than three volumes high. Too much weight can warp the covers of the lower books.
  • Give your books a little space to breathe on the shelf. They should be close enough to support each other, but not packed so tightly that the bindings are abraded when you remove a book.
  • If you use bookends, make sure they are tall enough that your books don’t lean over the top of the bookends. The weight of the book against the bookend can cause damage to the cover.
  • Tall books that are shelved next to short books tend to get warped and deformed over time.  Shelve books by size whenever possible.

Using the right materials and shelving techniques can make all the difference in maintaining the value of your rare book collection.

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