​How to Treat a Book

Proper Care and Handling of Books

Take care when handling any collection item, especially functional items like books with flexing parts.  Being careful is one of the most effective, cost-efficient, and easily achieved preservation measures.

Proper Handling of Books:

  • Having clean hands and a clean area to use the book
  • Keeping food and drink away
  • Removing the book from the shelf by gripping on both sides of the spine at the middle of the book (push in the neighboring book on both sides to get a good grip), instead of tugging at the top of the spine
  • Do not force a book to lie open to 180 degrees; instead, prop up the covers of an opened book to decrease the opening angle
  • Do not use paper clips, "dog ear" folding, or acidic inserts to bookmark pages
  • Do not use rubber bands, self-adhesive tape, any kind of "leather dressing," and/or glue on books

Proper Storage of Books:

Good storage significantly prolongs the life and usability of books.  The following are the best storage habits for books.

  • A cool (room temperature or below), relatively dry (about 35% relative humidity), clean, and stable environment (avoid attics, basements, and other locations with high risk of leaks and environmental extremes)
  • Minimal exposure to all kinds of light; no exposure to direct or intense light
  • Distance from radiators and vents
  • Regular dusting and housekeeping
  • Shelving books of similar size together, so that the face of the covers are maximally supported by the neighbors on each side
  • Keep shelved books straight upright or lying flat, leaning is not good for books

Dealing with Condition Problems:

Beyond the measures outlined above, there are two main options to care for books in fragile condition.

1. Protect the book further with a box or other enclosure: The Northeast Document Conservation Center has put together very useful technical leaflets on storage enclosures for books and papers as well as a list for Conservation/Preservation Supplies and Equipment — Archival Supplies. See additional lists of preservation suppliers.

2. Get the book conservation treatment by a book conservator: The national professional association for conservators, the American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works (AIC) , maintains an online directory for finding a conservator by specialty and geographic location and provides information on how to choose a conservator. In addition, AIC also offers guidelines for the care of collections beyond library materials.

This information and more can be found on the Library of Congress website.

Additional Information on Dressings for Leather-Bound Books:

Use of leather dressings is no longer considered a best practice in the conservation of leather-bound books. The general advice above in the “Dealing with Condition Problems” section still represents the best options for dealing with the various condition problems that may arise with deteriorating leather, including red rot, stiffness, and dessication.

You can check out more information about leather-bound books and options at the Selected Bibliography website.  The preservation guidelines described here have been used by the Library of Congress in the care of its collections; however, Memorial Library will not be responsible for damage to your collection should damage result from the use of these procedures. 

Videos for Handling and Book Care: