There are few things more precious and more delicate than books. Our books are tied to memories, learning, and escape, and oftentimes, we hope to hold onto our books for generations to come. If we are the owners of first-edition or rare books, we want to be especially careful that this treasured item retains its integrity.
Unfortunately, storing books can be tricky. The pages can get mouldy and brittle with age, and leather binding can deteriorate. If you’re planning to store your books off-site from your home for safekeeping or to make room for new books, there are a few things you should know about how to pack your books for the long haul.
- Heat and humidity matter
There is an ideal temperature for books! According to the Art Institute of Chicago, “68-72 degrees Fahrenheit, with 40-50 percent relative humidity” is the best climate to keep your books in. “Monitor temperature and humidity levels. Excessive fluctuations in temperature and relative humidity can be particularly damaging.” If you can’t control your book’s atmosphere so closely, follow this simple but memorable advice from the State Archives of Florida: “A good rule of thumb is, if you’re hot and sticky, your books are, too.”
Books are made of organic materials and are susceptible to sub-optimal temperature conditions. Hot and dry climates cause book pages to become brittle and breakable. As you might expect, humidity promotes mould. Once mould takes hold of your book, it permeates the rest of the pages and can even spread to other nearby books. You’ll know your book has gone mouldy if you open it up and are hit with a sour, musty smell. In that case, you’ll need to throw the book away, as mould can be dangerous to inhale.
Basements and attics are prone to temperature and humidity fluctuations, making them poor long-term choices for storing your best books. An area with reliable climate control is best and will keep your books pristine for however long you wish to store them.
- Pest control
Critters seem to love reading too, as they can’t get enough of books. Or maybe it’s just that books provide a lovely homestead and even sustenance for invasive pests.
Rats and mice use paper to make their nests, making your books a prime target for their scrounging. Roaches and silverfish are also attracted to books. They tend to bunch in warm, humid areas and use books as fodder and as a place to lay their eggs. Ensure you store your books in a place that regularly checks for pests and doesn’t have their ideal temperature conditions.
- Box em’
If you’re packing your books in boxes for long-term storage, don’t foil your own efforts by using the wrong choice of box. Cardboard boxes should be new (for Victor Hugo’s sake, don’t use pre-used cardboard boxes, they’re sure to become musty) as well as acid and lignin-free. Boxes made from synthetic materials may be a better option, as they are not as prone to mould developing inside.
Stack the largest books on the bottom, working your way to the smallest on top. Once the books are packed, remember to always raise your boxes off the floor by placing them on pallets. This is another anti-mould measure.
- Don’t overload
Books are delicate things, and too much weight on top of a box of books will lead to breakage within. A book’s spine is its most vulnerable point, so avoid placing anything on top that will put pressure. Don’t cram other items into your box of books either. They could move during travel, damaging your books. Basically, treat your books like wine glasses, sans the newspaper wrapping.
- Get a room
It might be worth it to rent a storage space for your books, where you’ll have consistent climate control and regular cleaning to ensure there are no pests about. Especially if you own valuable books, their worth will retain better if conditions are perfect. It’s rare to have such control at home, even with modern systems built in. A storage facility is a professional, quiet spot for your books to live their best lives. That is, only if you don’t see yourself reading them anytime soon. This is a great option if you’re planning on passing your books down to your kids and grandchildren and want to be extra sure no harm will come to them in the meantime.
Books are special items; whether new or old, self-chosen or passed down, funny or serious, classics or unknowns, there’s a novel energy to books (no pun intended). The destruction of a book is a poignantly unfortunate event, especially when there’s something we could have easily done to prevent it.
Using our packing tips, the books you put into storage will be safe from pests, mould, and degradation for years to come, when you take them out to enter their magical worlds again or pass them on to a young reader just learning to appreciate books.