The Art of Preserving Books for Centuries

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The Art of Preserving Books for Centuries

In the digital age, it might seem crazy to think about preserving books, however; as any bibliophile knows, there’s nothing like thumbing through the pages of a beautiful book. As Northrop Frye reminded us, “The most technologically efficient machine that man has ever invented is the book.” As these tomes of wisdom endure, the following techniques can help preserve books for centuries.

Keep Contaminants Away

To preserve books, it’s important to keep contaminants away. You might love curling up with a good book and cup of steaming coffee or pouring over a novel while you’re chowing down on dinner, but it is simply tempting fate. Food and drink can stain the pages, so keep them well away from your books. You should also make sure your hands are clean, as well as your reading area.

Handle Your Books Correctly

Once you and your space have passed the clean test, you’re ready to select your book. But not so fast, don’t just tug at the top of the spine, or you might tear it. Instead, grip both sides of the spine at the center and remove it gently. You might like to push the books on either side out toward the edge of your bookshelf to get a better grip.

Once you’re done reading, don’t just set your book down with the spine facing up. This might reserve your place, but it could split the spine. Dog-earring the pages is a no-no as well. Instead, reach for a good bookmark so you can resume reading when you’re ready. Paper clips and acidic inserts might mark the pages, but most commercially available bookmarks or even a plain piece of paper should be suitable.

Store Them Correctly

Storing your books correctly will also help preserve them. It’s best to keep your books in a room which doesn’t get a lot of sunlight, as this could fade the spines and make them brittle. You should also choose a cool, dry room which is clean with a stable environment. Attics and basements aren’t ideal because they tend to be very hot or very cold, and they’re not used enough to stay clean.

High temps can degrade paper and adhesives, while very humid temps can cause adhesive failure and condensation. When it’s humid, moisture can be absorbed into the binding which warps the covers, these conditions can also cause damaging mold to grow.

Once you’ve found a prime spot, it’s time to arrange your books. Shelve books of similar heights together. This isn’t just an aesthetic choice. It also ensures that the covers of all books help support each other. Your books should ideally stand up in the shelves to protect their spines. Generally books will support one another, but if you don’t have enough to fill your shelves you can use a bookend to prevent damaging leans. Storing books flat will also help protect them, although access to these books isn’t as easy.

As a flood of eBooks hit the market, print books will become even more treasured. These techniques ensure we can preserve them for the next generation.