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How to safely handle and care for books

Do not grip the spine to remove a book from a shelf

Do not grip the spine to remove a book from a shelf

Books are constructed from a range of materials including card, paper, leather, cloth, thread and adhesives. They are designed to be opened and closed. However, if the binding fails, the item can no longer function as a book. Common signs of damage include abrasion and loss of covering materials as a result of use, delaminating covers, torn or folded pages, discolouration, and the deterioration of paper.

You can care for your books by following some simple recommendations on how to safely handle and store your book collection. When handling books it is best to have clean hands. Powder-free nitrile/latex or cotton gloves may be worn when handling particularly dirty items or those with sensitive covering materials such as leather with gold lettering. It is also important to use books in clean areas away from food and drinks.

People often dog-ear pages when reading. This should be avoided, as folding can weaken the paper and result in tears and/or losses. It is also recommended that you do not use paper clips to mark pages which can leave indentations or use acidic bookmarks.

Books are often damaged when they are removed from shelves. Never grip the top of the spine to pull the book out as this can damage the covering materials and spine. Rather, remove the book using two hands after pushing the neighbouring books back slightly on the shelf.

Push back neighbouring books before removing one from the shelf

Push back neighbouring books before removing one from the shelf

When possible do not force a book open to 180 degrees, particularly if it is a fragile or heavy volume. A support such as a soft cushion can be used to support the book from underneath to decrease the opening angle and protect the spine.

A good environment will contribute to the long-term preservation of books. Ideally, the collection should be stored in a stable environment that is relatively cool and dry. Light exposure should be kept to a minimum to decrease the likelihood of fading. Good housekeeping is also important to reduce the buildup of dust. Most volumes should be stored upright on shelves that are not packed too tightly. Oversized books or those with limp covers can be stored flat. Fragile or rare books may be stored in archival enclosures such as boxes or four-flap folders.

Note that it is recommended that you consult a Conservator before attempting to clean or repair books. The appropriate method for a book depends on its age, its materials and its binding type, along with its condition.

Amy Bartlett, QVMAG Senior Conservator

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