We routinely hear from customers who want to know the best way to store collectible books. Sadly, even more commonly, we hear from customers who have inadvertently stored their books improperly, eroding the value of their beloved book collection.
We thought we'd take an opportunity to share with you some tips for proper storage of books, gleaned from not only our own personal experience, but that of seasoned professional booksellers. But before we dive right in to the stacks, let's preface the whole thing by reminding you that:
Even the most scarce of titles is rarely worth much when it is in poor condition or beyond repair. Mildew, broken spines, torn or faded dust jackets, cocked bindings and similar issues can conspire to move a desirable book from the display case to the bargain bin.
Ok, that said, let's learn how we can keep your book collection from ruin when you need to put it in storage for a period of time.
Books prefer a temperate climate and abhor extremes. Try to identify a storage location that maintains a relatively steady temperature of around 65 degrees and humidity around 40%. Too much humidity can lead to mold and foxing of pages. Too little can leave the leaves and binding dry and brittle. For example, some of the worst places for controlled climate in your house would include an attic, garage, or basement, so these locations are to be avoided.
Do everything possible to keep books out of direct sunlight, which will not only fade the jacket, spine and boards, but will also cause them to deteriorate over time. Especially be careful of books shelved to face south windows (north if you're down under!) as they garner more sun exposure than other windows.
Always store your books with the jackets on. Make sure the inner flaps aren't tucked anywhere except just inside the boards and that they are not creased or folded. Also, as a side note: always keep the jackets on your books except when actively reading them. Books separated from their jackets rarely are rejoined in like condition, if at all.
Always remove all bookmarks and other inserts (such as scraps of paper or notes) prior to storing your books. If you wish to keep them with the books, put them in an acid free envelope and place them outside the book.
If possible, store books on bookshelves in the upright position. Do not allow them to lean against each other or against the sides of the shelves. This can cause spines to become cocked. Use bookends to secure books in an upright position or fill the entire shelf so books are snug (but not tight!) against one another. A good rule of thumb is that you should be able to slide an envelope between two books without much effort.
If storing your books on shelves upright is impractical, store them in horizontal stacks, taking care that the largest (not thickest) books are on the bottom and scaling upwards in a rough pyramid shape. This prevents spines from become rolled or boards from becoming warped. Make sure the stacks are not placed on the floor, where they can too easily be scuffed and bumped by passersby.
Store in boxes only when shelf storage is not available. Boxes make it more difficult for air to flow around the books and can allow moisture to build up. Always start by stacking the books horizontally in boxes. Gaps can be filled by a properly sized book inserted in its upright position (take care that it is shorter than the stack itself to minimize the chances of it becoming crushed under other boxes). Resist the temptation to place a book in the box with its spine facing up or down, no matter how good the fit looks like it might be. Try to avoid stacking boxes more than 3 feet high for any extended length of time.
While your books are stored, if possible try to dust them regularly using a chemical free duster. Dust towards the spines, not away from them. This prevents nicking and tearing of the jacket flaps or corners.
A good rule of thumb when storing books is to treat your books as you would your household pet or good friend on a summer day. Give them a nice shady, cool, comfortable indoor location where they aren't cramped or uncomfortably positioned.
Except, maybe, skip the tall glass of lemonade.