Protecting Books

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.

Avoid Sunlight

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.