How to Store Old Books—and Handle Rare Books With Care

Learn the best way to preserve books and prolong their life.

We hand-pick items for our readers and may earn a small commission if you buy something featured on this page.
storing old books

There is a difference between old books and rare books. Most rare books are old, but not all old books are rare. It’s not unusual for an antique book to be in pristine condition, especially if the owners knew how to store these books with care. Specific environments will accelerate the aging process, which is why a climate-controlled environment is critical. These book storage tips will teach you some simple best practices and help you preserve your collection for years to come.

What Damages Old Books

  • Humidity attracts mold and other spores that will irreparably damage the book.
  • Heat can crack bindings and dry out the glue holding the book together. 
  • UV exposure can bleach covers, break bindings, and cause yellowed, dried-out pages. 
  • Dust might degrade the book cover and pages over time.
  • Household chemicals can stain pages or weaken the paper, making it more susceptible to tearing.
  • Oils from hands can stain pages and book covers. 

Climate Control Tips

  • Take into account the number of windows in a room that may cause pockets of uneven heating. 
  • Generally, basements are too humid, and attics are too hot and dry to provide adequate protection for old books. 
  • Consider a dehumidifier or air conditioning unit if your storage area needs additional climate control. 
  • Purchase a hygrometer if you don’t have a humidity readout on your thermostat or dehumidifier. 

Ideal Book Storage Conditions

Temperature: 65F – 75F
Humidity: 30% – 50%

*The most important factor here is that both the temperature and humidity remain as consistent as possible over time. 

Do’s and Dont’s of Book Storage

Don’t store books tightly on a bookshelf.

There should be a small space between each book so that the covers aren’t rubbing against each other. Books crammed onto a shelf apply unneeded pressure to the binding when they are taken in and out of place. 

Do store books vertically on a bookshelf.

If you opt to stack books horizontally, the spines can become compressed over time. If you have larger books, like an atlas, that can’t stand upright, stack them flat on the shelf with no more than three books in the stack.

Don’t use collectible slipcases for old books.

Don’t use collectible slipcases or bags for old books, as they may not be designed for the specific size or fragility of the book. Taking the book in and out of a slipcase that doesn’t fit properly can cause wear and tear, leading to potential damage to the binding and pages. Covers, specifically made with archival-quality materials, are often a better choice for old books, as they provide a tailored fit and protection without the repeated physical stress that comes with inserting and removing a book from a slipcase.

Do position the books away from direct light.

Avoid direct light from windows or doors to prevent UV damage. If you have no other option but to place books by a window, cover the books in a clear UV protective dust jacket. This additional jacket will also protect the cover from damaging dust and debris. Another option you might consider is adding a UV-blocking film directly on your windows. 

Don’t handle old books often.

Excessive handling, especially when incorrectly done, can damage the books with excessive wear and tear. The oils from your skin can also damage the cover and stain the fragile pages. 

Do store rare books in a museum-quality archival storage box.

These boxes are acid-free and are designed to provide the best storage environment for paper and photos. If the book is worth the trouble, make sure the box is a certified archival grade and has gone through rigorous testing. Some people suggest tossing in some silica packets to keep moisture out, but we believe it’s more important that the surrounding environment remains at the appropriate humidity to prevent moisture inside the box.

How to Handle Rare Books

Here are some quick steps to carefully handle and preserve valuable books and antique books with decorative covers.

  1. Wash Hands

    Wash and dry your hands or wear lint-free gloves, preferably a pair of white inspection gloves. The oils on your hands can damage old books by staining the pages and are especially harmful on older, more deteriorated books. 

  2. Pull From Spine

    Wash and dry your hands or wear lint-free gloves, preferably a pair of white inspection gloves. The oils on your hands can damage old books by staining the pages and are especially harmful on older, more deteriorated books. 

  3. Remove Dust

    Wipe the top of the book where dust collects before handling. Do this by pinching the book cover together and gently swiping a clean soft bristled brush from the spine to the edge of the pages. Again, ensure the book is tightly closed to avoid dust on the interior pages. 

  4. Inspect the Book

    Open the book gently when inspecting, and don’t open the book too wide when reading. Be sure not to leave the book open or flattened when you are done handling it because this puts extra stress on the spine. 

  5. Do Not Mark in Any Way

    Think twice before adding any markings to the book. You might be tempted to add pencil notes on a book you’re using for research, but markings can devalue the book depending on the book’s rarity and collectibility. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Should old books be stored in plastic?

Storing old books in plastic can protect them from dust and moisture, but it’s essential to ensure that the plastic is acid-free and doesn’t trap humidity. Using archival-grade plastic covers is recommended.

How do you pack old books for storage?

Pack old books in acid-free boxes, placing them upright with support or laying them flat. Use padding to prevent movement, and avoid stacking too many books in one box. Seal the box well and store it in a climate-controlled area.

Can old and fragile books be preserved?

Yes, old and fragile books can be preserved by following proper storage, handling, and climate control guidelines. Consider professional preservation services for extremely valuable or deteriorated books.

This website uses cookies to improve your experience. By clicking “Accept“, you agree to our website's cookie use as described in our Cookie Policy. Accept Read More