Care and display of your book collection

Books are made from a complex range of organic material including paper, leather and fabric. Bindings can vary greatly in both style and strength.  Older books (pre nineteenth century) are often bound in full leather.  Books produced more recently are often cheaply bound, for example paperbacks.


The materials and the style of binding can contribute to the deterioration. Books are susceptible to degradation from high humidity, temperature and light. Foxing (brown spot stains) and mould growth is accelerated with fluctuations in temperature and humidity but this type of cycle will also cause expansion and contraction of the paper, which can lead to cracking of the media and distortion of the paper. Light can cause irreversible fading of pigments and inks and can accelerate the rate of deterioration, for instance papers which have high wood pulp content may yellow and become brittle.

Paper is a food source for insects and rodents. These can cause mechanical damages by chewing paper supports, sizing agents and binders. Good housekeeping practices will minimise the potential of damage caused by insects and rodents.

Careless handling and poor storage can cause serious damage to books. Paper is easily torn, punctured, creased and stained and image areas are often prone to abrasion. Inappropriate repairs, for instance the use of pressure-sensitive tapes and other non-archival adhesives, can cause irreversible damage such as unsightly staining.

Storage and handling

ü  Avoid storing books in shelves located against external walls, in direct sunlight, in kitchens, near heating or cooling sources or near high moisture areas such as bathrooms.

ü  Dust books and shelves regularly to reduce the chance of insect infestation and mould growth.  Dusting the sides and spine of the book may be done with a soft brush while firmly holding the book closed by the fore-edge.

ü  Books should be stored upright on shelves, keeping similar sizes together and using bookends to prevent them from falling.  Large books may need to be stored flat. Avoid tightly packing books into shelves.

ü  Handle books carefully, one at a time. Avoid pulling a book by the top of the spine as this can cause ripping or distortion of the spine. When moving books from a shelf, push in the books on either side so that the spine of the book to be removed is full exposed.

ü  Books may be stored in archival boxes if they are of high value or if they are structurally weak.

ü  Attach an inventory to the lid of the box or the front of the folder.

ü  Separate books with metal components as they will abrade and tear adjacent bindings.

ü  When reading a book which may be large, heavy, or tightly bound, use a cushion to cradle the book to help prevent stain on the spine.  Never force a book flat to photocopy it as this is likely to crack the spine.

ü  Handwritten entries in important books, for example family Bibles, should be archived by making a copy to minimise the use of the book.

ü  If a book gets wet take immediate action.  Stand it upright on an absorbent surface such as blotting paper and fan the pages open.  Increase air circulation with a domestic fan.  Turn the other end up as it dries.

ü  It is not advisable to apply oils or dressings to leather bindings.

ü  Structural repairs and tears should be carried out by a book conservator.

Contact your state or city archive or library for advice on dealing with water damage and mould growth.