How to Store Your Book Collection

In many ways, books serve as a portal to another world. The perfect balance of imagination and artistry, books can define generations and unite people across borders. Despite the rise in ebooks and audiobooks, many bibliophiles still love the feeling of holding a book and flipping the pages. However, those who own hundreds of books run into an issue sooner or later: How do you store a book collection? Without proper storage, it's possible to lose favorites to the passage of time, so following these tips is essential to maintaining a personal library.

Key Point Module

  • 1 Make sure books are dust-free, safe from pests and dry before storage.
  • 2 Store books upright in a bookshelf, stacked on the floor with the heaviest books on the bottom or in rigid, airtight boxes.
  • 3 Keep books away from direct sunlight and out of the way of hot or humid conditions, like in basements or attics.
  • 4 Books intended to be sold should be maintained as best as possible with dust jackets intact.

Storing Your Book Collection

Owning books can be a great way to expand the mind and engage the spirit, providing a way to revisit old favorites and dive into new stories on demand. However, storing books isn’t as easy as it sounds. Improper care, like failing to prevent damage from humidity or sunlight, can ruin books, destroying them for yourself — and for generations to come.

Dust Books

Books, especially books that aren’t a part of regular circulation, can get very dusty in time. While dusting books may seem like a needless step, the make up of dust can attract insects and other pests.

Dusting some books can be done using a standard feather duster. Older books, such as antiques or first editions, may require more care. For fragile books, use a paintbrush with soft bristles to remove dust from the cover, spine and pages.

If books have dust jackets — not all do — be sure these are in place before storage. For those who plan to preserve resale value, dust jackets can be an essential part of maintaining a competitive price point.

Air Out Books

Most books won’t require breathing room before being put away, but any books that smell musty or feel damp should be aired out prior to storage. Dampness can attract mold and mildew, ruining books for good and threatening the condition of those stored in the same area.

To air out books, place them standing up with the pages fanned out in a dry room to allow the musty smell to dissipate and ensure pages are completely dry. For most books, this will suffice. For those with a stronger scent, sealing books in a box with baking soda for 24 to 48 hours can eliminate even the worst musty smells.

Inspect for Pests

Pests can be a huge problem for books, especially those in storage that aren’t handled on a regular basis. Insects, for example, can destroy paper and damage spines.

During the dusting process, examine books between the pages and along the spine for bug eggs, which look like black grains of sand. Brush these away using a soft-bristled paintbrush, taking care to remove as many as possible.

Never use bug spray on a book. The chemicals can damage the paper and cause degradation.

Prevent Sun Exposure

Vitamin D from the sun is a vital part of staying healthy as a human, but it can be deadly for books. Sunlight can be extremely damaging for books, leading to fading as well as the breakdown of glue and paper.

Make sure rooms that contain books, such as storage rooms or libraries, can be kept cool and dark when possible. Never place bookshelves close to windows or anywhere else that may be in direct sunlight for part of the day.

Control the Climate

As with storing many other valuables, such as clothing and or antique furniture, climate control is very important for books.

An improper climate can be very damaging to books. Heat and humidity in particular can be very problematic; heat can damage glue, and moisture levels of 55% or higher can encourage bug eggs to hatch and mildew to develop. For this reason, attics and unfinished basements are discouraged. Finished basements that can provide a cool, dry storage place without the risk of humidity can be acceptable.

If books are going to be stored in a storage unit rather than within the home, always choose a climate-controlled unit to maintain a steady temperature throughout the year.

Choose the Right Storage

Books are always best stored on a shelf. When standing upright and packed together, books are less likely to experience page damage or the effects of insects.

However, many book collectors do not have enough shelving to store all books or may want to pack away books to place in storage. In this case, it’s important to choose a storage container that meets needs without compromising the integrity of a book.

Try to avoid cardboard boxes or any boxes made of a porous surface. While convenient, cardboard and paper can allow moisture through and are easy for pests like bugs and mice to penetrate. Cardboard is acceptable for short-term storage but should never be used when storing books long term. When storing books in boxes, use airtight plastic bins whenever possible that have rigid sides and can’t be damaged if moved or dropped. If transportation is planned, fill any empty spaces in boxes with bubble wrap.

Never wrap books in plastic bags. Plastic can hold moisture and lead to mold. Always keep books unwrapped when packing them for storage.

FAQ

Can I store books in stacks?

Yes, if necessary, it is possible to stack books to better store them. While not ideal for long-term storage, stacking books can be used on a short-term basis. When stacking books, always put the largest, heaviest books at the bottom. Always stack paperback books on top of hardcover books.

Should books be stored flat or upright?

When possible, books should be stored upright in a shelving unit in a sufficiently snug manner so that pages aren’t rumpled. Books should never lean while on a shelf or in storage as this can damage the integrity of the spine.

If books aren’t kept in a bookshelf, books should be kept flat in a secure, rigid storage box.

How should I pack books in boxes?

When packing books in boxes, it is important to make sure that the heaviest hardcover books are on the bottom and lighter or paperback books are on top. Books should be stacked in an efficient manner but not packed so close together that there is risk to the spine or pages.