We all have books we want to protect and keep for a long time.
We all have books that are special to us. Perhaps they hold sentimental value, or they’re part of a collection we want to keep safe. This article will go into three things you can do to protect your books. These are general things and not an exhaustive list. If you have something that is rare and collectible you might want to get specific advice on keeping that book safe.
Sunlight acts like a bleach. Here you see where the book at some point protruded on the shelf. Exposed areas turned yellow and discoloured.
Over time prolonged exposure to sunlight causes colours to fade and yellow. You’ll be familiar with picking up a book that’s been sitting on a shelf in the sun. The spine is a different colour to the cover like it has been lightly bleached along the spine.
Because of this, make sure bookshelves are not sitting in direct sunlight. Indirect sunlight and artificial ultraviolet light can still be a problem, but for most books it is not worth worrying about. For more valuable books, consider storing them away from light entirely, such as in a box or cupboard. When doing this though, make sure you aren’t exposing them to dampness, dust or insects. See our following tips for more on this.
Age spots (also called foxing) is mostly age related, but believed to be made worse with high humidity. It appears as brown/yellow splotches or marks on the page.
Avoid Humidity and Damp
A damp home, or prolonged exposure to relative humidity over 65%, can cause problems with mould and age spots on your books.
Age spots, also called foxing, are most noticeable on old books where you’ll notice the paper is yellowed and there are brown spots or patches on it. This is most often seen on the outer edge of pages, on the inside of a dust jacket, and on the first and last few pages of a book.
This is an otherwise good copy of a Terry Pratchett first edition ruined by mould.
In serious cases, books can also grow visible mould. This is not only unsightly but can spread to other books and isn’t good for your health.
Both age spots and mould can, to an extent, be treated. But it is best to take them to a professional and in most cases it won't be worth it. It is best avoided in the first place.
A damp environment can also attract insects that burrow into your books, gnaw holes in the paper, and leave their droppings. It goes without saying that this is bad.
As such, one of the worst places to keep books then is in boxes in the garage or shed. We often see these stored away for years - out of sight and out of mind. By the time people get to the box years later, the books are in pretty bad shape. Before putting books into storage like that, consider whether you even want to keep them. You might be better off selling or trading them in before they become a mess.
What about inside the home? Generally, an environment that is good for humans is good for books. That is, with good ventilation and temperature controls in your living rooms and bedrooms, books should be safe on your shelves. Cupboards can get a bit tricky as they’re shut away behind closed doors. This is much better than the garage or the roof space but does mean they can get forgotten and you won’t notice if things go wrong.
One place to definitely avoid is keeping books on window sills. Not only do you have the damage from sunlight, but books on window sills get damp and mouldy quickly.
Dust jackets were originally designed to protect books, but now they're worth protecting in their own right. Non-adhesive PVC covers are the answer.
Consider Non-Adhesive PVC Covers
For hardcover books, the dust jacket is often the most vulnerable part of the book. Originally designed to be cheap and disposable, for the sole purpose of protecting the book itself, dust jackets now are themselves worth protecting.
There are a lot of products out there that claim to protect dust jackets. It's important though to pick the right one. We recommend non-adhesive PVC covers. You can get these online from Book Protection Products Limited. The non-adhesive PVC comes in rolls of different shapes and sizes. In the shop, we use Clear Gloss 450mm x 50m (PVCC450).
Once cut to length, a PVC cover simply folds over the dust jacket, meaning there's no need for glue or sellotape.
Once you get the PVC roll, you simply cut the PVC to the length of the dust jacket and fold the PVC tightly over it. This can take a bit of practice. At minimum roll length of 50 meters, you do need a few books in your collection to cover before it is worth it.
The reason you want non-adhesive PVC, and not something that sticks to the book (or itself) is because you want to avoid anything acidic coming in contact with the book. This will react with the paper and cause discolouration. Not to mention any attempt to remove it could cause tears or damage to the surface. So put your sellotape or school book covering away.
Note: this guide assumes you’ve already been in touch with us and checked to see if the book is in our collection. If you haven’t, go to our Request a Book page.
With over a million books published a year, no single bookshop or even chain can have them all. Sometimes you need to go searching for that elusive copy you're after. This is especially true if the book is now rare or out-of-print. Outside of TradeMe though, most people don’t know where to start.
One particular problem in New Zealand is the cost of shipping second-hand books here from overseas. Especially with low value books, shipping can make up a large part of the final cost to you. And it also means sometimes the cheapest copy isn’t always the best value copy once shipping is included.
A great website for shopping around is www.isbns.net. It isn’t a book retailer. Instead it markets itself for “book price comparison made simple.” The idea is great - it searches hundreds of online stores and marketplaces and then tells you where to find the book the cheapest with shipping included. One limitation for New Zealand however, is that it doesn't search TradeMe. It is worth double checking there first.
Note: when checking isbns.net the results don’t include GST, which all major international book sites now charge. The conversion to New Zealand Dollars at the time of your search is also indicative, but your credit card company’s exchange rates may also differ and card charges may apply.
But let’s see how it works.
First the landing page:
Nice and simple. In the search bar you can either put in the ISBN number of the book you’re looking for (if you want a particular edition) or you can add the name of the book and the author.
We’ll try looking for Into the Wilderness by Sara Donati. You could look for anything, from the rare to the mundane. It even does a good job with New Zealand books. After hitting the search button you’ll be presented with the different results.
We found the one we wanted and clicked on it. You could however choose a couple of editions by right clicking on them and opening them in a new tab. Either way, you get a result like this:
The first thing you do is make sure you have these two drop down menus correct:
This makes sure all the calculations are in New Zealand dollars and shipping is calculated to New Zealand. This is important, because you’ll see that one copy is US$1.38, but it has $14.99 shipping. Another is US$4.39 but shipping is only US$9. This is common and why it pays to use isbns.net rather than searching the individual stores. It means you can narrow down your search to just compare a couple of copies.
Now click on each listing to expand. You’ll see the bookseller’s notes.
You can read how the booksellers describe their copies. A lot of these look like boilerplate copy and paste descriptions that they apply to everything. You’ll often find this for fiction when they’re selling a copy for a few dollars, they’re not going to spend time describing it. But be warned - the book might have all those things wrong with it, or it might have none of them. It depends whether you want a nice book for the shelf, or something you can read. For more expensive books the descriptions are generally specific to the copy in stock. Read them carefully.
Once you’ve made your choice, you can click on ‘Buy it’ and go to the specific store.
The three most common stores are Abebooks, Biblio, and Alibris. These are online marketplaces where thousands of booksellers (including New Zealand ones) list their titles, a bit like TradeMe or eBay for books. Isbns.net may also direct you to Book Depository if it finds, once shipping is taken into account, it would be cheaper for you to buy the book new from their store. Sometimes it brings up New Zealand retailers like Fishpond or the Nile.
Once you’re on the retailer’s website you’ll need to follow their instructions and sign up for an account or checkout as Guest (depending on the website). It pays to check you’ve got the right edition and read the description of the book on the retailer’s website in case they have more information that isbns.net missed. Again, remember they will almost certainly charge you New Zealand GST on top of the listed price and shipping.
Most of the major stores have pretty good customer service and return policies, but individual stores will have their own policies as well. Check these out and do your due diligence before you buy. While most booksellers are reasonable people, buying from overseas means you don’t have the same protections as you’d have in New Zealand.
If this was helpful or you'd like us to expand on some aspects of this in future articles let us know.