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Protecting your Valuable Books and Documents

An Introduction for Personal Collectors

General Instructions

Caring for valuable books and documents involves prevention of future deterioration as well as repair of existing damage. Problem areas include: unfavorable storage conditions, especially extremes or fluctuations in temperature and relative humidity, exposure to direct sunlight, water damage, etc. chemical deterioration of the original materials mold and insects improper or excessive handling.

Begin by improving storage conditions. Store books and papers away from direct heat or light at a constant temperature of 71 degrees or less, with a relative humidity of approximately 45 percent. Place each item in an acid-neutral or chemically inert container appropriate for its size and shape.

Remove newspaper clippings, bookmarks, or other items which have been laid into books. Remove paper clips, staples, and rubber bands from all materials. If there are signs of ink migration from illustrations or photographs bound into a book, insert acid- neutral interleaving sheets between the affected pages.

Avoid irreversible treatments. For example:

  • Do not laminate materials.
  • Do not apply conventional glue, tape, staples, or rubber bands.
  • Do not store materials in plastic that adheres to their back or surface
  • Use only products identified as acid-free or acid-neutral.

Do not store books or papers in closed wooden cabinets unless the shelves have been sealed to protect materials from acids exuded by untreated wood. Interiors of wooden book shelves should be coated with a primer and at least two coats of high quality solvent-based acrylic paint or solvent-based varnish. Some polyurethane may be used, but test first for formaldehyde content.

To reduce wear and tear from handling, make photocopies or photographs of frequently used items.

To preserve materials for future researchers, consider placing originals in an archival repository that maintains a preservation environment and document security procedures.

For other preservation questions, consult "Additional Sources of Information" below.

Preservation Supplies

The catalogs of several companies* describe supplies for conservation treatment of books and documents. Compare prices, shipping and handling costs, statements of archival standards met, minimum quantities sold, and equipment or other supplies required to use the items you plan to order.

Repair and Restoration

For referrals or information about using the services of a professional conservator, contact:

American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works, Suite 200, 1717 K St, N.W., Washington, DC 20006. (202) 452-9545.

Or contact one of the following* for a referral or a current list of their services and charges.

Dealers and Appraisal Services

For referrals or information about using the services of a dealer or appraiser, contact one of the following. These organizations do not buy, sell or appraise books directly; these services are provided by i members. Both organizations offer assistance in locating an expert in the type of book you have, or in your geographic area, who can further assist you in learning about your books and collecting.

To identify book dealers, consult telephone directories under the listing "Book Dealers--Used and Rare." Contact firms listed to obtain information about their services and fees.

*Inclusion on this list does not constitute endorsement, nor should omission be construed as a negative reflection on firms not listed.

Additional Sources of Information

Greenfield, Jane. Books, Their Care and Repair. New York: H. W. Wilson, 1984.

Morrow, Carolyn Clark. Conservation Treatment Procedures: A Manual of Step-by-Step Procedures for the Maintenance and Repair of Library Materials. Littleton, Colo.: Libraries Unlimited, 1986.

Weinstein, Robert A. Collection, Use, and Care of Historical Photographs. Nashville, Tenn.: American Association for State and Local History, 1977.

"Your Old Books." Chicago: American Library Association, 2005.

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Last updated: August 15, 2012