While some books and documents may be of obvious value, others may not readily appear so. Personal letters, family histories, children’s art and school work, and other family memorabilia are a few of the items often overlooked when assigning value to private collections. Ultimately, it is up to the owner of these items to determine what needs to be preserved for future generations. Below are some general guidelines for protecting and preserving your precious books and documents.
Storing and Displaying Your Historic Treasures
Protection From Light
- All light sources will eventually damage materials, but UV light is the most damaging.
- Never display or store objects next to windows or in direct sunlight.
- Use incandescent, rather than fluorescent lighting.
- Regularly rotate displays to avoid constant exposure to light.
Protection From Dust, Heat, Moisture, and Insects
- Never store items in your attic or basement where excessive heat or moisture and extreme fluctuations in temperature can result in irreversible damage.
- Never store materials near direct heat sources such as radiators and water heaters.
- Always allow for adequate air circulation.
- Try to maintain a constant environment, with a temperature of about 70° and a relative humidity of around 50%.
- Store items in a dark closet when not on display.
- Never use insecticides. Control insects by keeping a clean environment and following proper storage techniques. Dust and dirt encourage growth of mold and insect infestation.
Protection From Handling
- Avoid excessive handling of older books and documents by making a copy of the original, then using that copy to make further copies.
- Avoid folding and refolding old documents.
- Avoid removing books from shelves by grabbing the upper edge of the book (endcap), which can lead to damage and tearing of the binding. Store books on shelves with enough room for the book to be grasped by both sides.
- Use book ends on shelves to keep books from leaning or flopping over, which can permanently damage them.
- Make sure your hands are clean, or use clean white cotton gloves when handling books or documents.
Protection During Storage
- Always store or display books vertically (larger books on their spine).
- Use cotton ribbon to tie up books with very loose binders.
- Always allow adequate support for the material; fit the item to the container, then fit the container to the storage box.
- Don’t store or display books or papers in closed wooden cabinets unless shelves have been sealed to protect materials from acids exuded by untreated wood. Treat shelves with a primer and two coats of high quality solvent-based acrylic paint or solvent-based varnish.
- Never keep newspaper clippings inside books, or store with other documents. Newsprint is highly acidic and will cause pages to turn brown and brittle.
- Remove all paper clips, staples, and rubber bands, book marks, pressed flowers, paper scraps, and other acidic materials from books before storing.
- Always use acid-free boxes, envelopes, and folders for long-term storage of books and documents rather than plastic bags and cardboard boxes.
Avoiding Irreversible Treatments
- Never laminate materials.
- Never use conventional glue or tape, which are not acid free. Always use products identified as acid-free or acid-neutral.
- Never use rubber bands, staples, or paper clips, which can deteriorate or rust.
- Never store materials inside plastic covers that stick to any surface of the materials.
- Avoid introducing contaminated items into your collection by making sure there are no bugs, mold, or other potential hazards infecting your new acquisitions. To remove mold and mildew, freeze the book or document overnight, then brush away the ice and dust.
- Store breakables on bottom shelves to avoid accidentally dropping them.
- Never store anything on the floor, in case of flooding.
Products for Preservation
Catalogs are available from several companies which describe supplies for conservation treatment of books and documents. Some acid-free products may also be purchased from large office supply stores and art stores.