The Exhibitsmith, on book preservation
[In my opinion, when you have a question, the best place to look is in a book. However, sometimes you’re lucky enough to have a beloved friend who’s a subject matter expert. My dear friend Lindsey is a professional archivist, and she was good enough to agree to shed some light on ways we readers can preserve treasured old books. I emailed her some questions, and she did the rest. Enjoy! — Jamie.]
Thanks, Jamie, for inviting me to be a guest blogger for Such a Book Nerd!
So, Miss Lindsey, tell us a little about your background. Have you had much experience working with books?
Well, I work in museums and archives, so I work with a variety of historic items: photographs, manuscript collections, decorative arts, personal accessories, textiles, and yes, books! Before moving to Iowa two+ years ago, I didn’t have too much experience working with old books, but now that I’m the archivist at Des Moines University, I work directly with over a thousand rare books, dating back to 1634. When I handle or read an old book, I can’t help but think about all the people who have read those same words over the centuries—it’s pretty humbling stuff.
I’m currently in possession of three antique books that I love and treasure. I’d like them to remain in good shape. What are your recommendations?
The first thing to think about is the environment in which you keep your books. Is it hot? Cold? Particularly dry or damp? Temperature and humidity are very important factors to consider. Many institutions with rare book collections monitor the temperature and humidity of their storage facilities very closely to make sure that the books aren’t constantly under stress from changing conditions.
Ideally, you should keep your books in a cool, dark, dry place. The Des Moines University Archives and Rare Book Room, for example, installed a separate HVAC system just for the historic collection; the storage room is always 65° and around 40% relative humidity.
Since you probably aren’t planning to take some drastic measures I recommend the following to ensure the life of your books (and photographs, papers and artifacts):
- Don’t keep the books in sunlight (they’ll fade and the sun can damage the paper),
- Don’t keep them somewhere with extreme temperature fluctuation (no garages, basements or attics – that’s an order!), and
- Don’t store them by an outside wall, a radiator, water pipe or heat source.
- Do keep them somewhere cool, dark and dry, like an interior closet
- Do keep them somewhere with a consistent environment (no seasonal temperature/humidity changes)
- Do store them in “archival” materials that let the book breathe and won’t further damage the pieces
- If your book has images that have bled to the adjacent page, do interleave a small piece of acid-free, unbuffered tissue between the sheets.
- Do feel free to read your books and show them to family and friends. Just because they’re in a box in the closet doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy them, too!
When I teach preservation workshops, I usually suggest that my students move their historic photos and books to guest room closet or other interior room. As for protecting the actual book, different books may require different methods of preservation.
If the book is in good condition, you can stand it up right on a shelf. Unless the binding is cracked, the book should be stored upright. If the book is in good shape but you’d like to wrap it to protect it from dust or fingerprints, I suggest wrapping it in a sheet of acid-free, buffered tissue paper, or wrapped in melinex® (Mylar). (See vendor information below)
If the books aren’t in great shape, you may need to wrap the books in something with more structure. If the binding is broken or the cover is cracked, I suggest purchasing a books case such as Archival Products’ Four Flap Enclosure or one of Gaylord’s Boxes.
I typically purchase my archival supplies from Gaylord.com, although there are many other reputable dealers including University Products and Archival Products. These companies are committed to the preservation of historic materials—unlike the “archival” and “acid-free” products sold at many craft and scrapbook stores. (Did you know that there are no standards associated with advertising something as “archival” or “acid-free”? Don’t be fooled by inaccurate marketing!
I know you’re a museum nerd – Which museums do you think would hold special interest for book nerds like me?
I’m very, very embarrassed to say that I have never visited the Newberry Library (perhaps Exhibitsmith & Such a Book Nerd can take a field trip together?) but they have an amazing collection of rare books. The University of Chicago also has a top notch archives and rare book collection. Also, surprisingly, the Museum of Science and Industry has a great collection of tiny books that are associated with Colleen Moore’s Fairy Castle. Most of the books are signed by celebrities (from Leonard Bernstein to the Queen of England) and are not on exhibit, but you can still see lots of tiny books on display in the castle’s tiny book shelves!
And, if you ever get to England, the British Library maintains a wonderful exhibit of books, maps, and manuscripts from the collection. It’s a book (and archive) lover’s dream.
What made you start your own business? Have you found it rewarding?
I decided to start freelancing after moving to Iowa. When I moved, I had acquired my part-time job in the Des Moines University Archives and Rare Book Room, but I still had a lot of free time. My business is growing every week and I love every minute of it.
One of the great things about my line of work is that I get to learn something new every single day. Now that I’m floating from one organization to the next, the learning opportunities are even more varied and exciting as before. In fact, I recently started blogging about my unique on-the-job experiences.
Check it out: www.museumminute.wordpress.com.
If you have any preservation questions or are interested in having me speak about photo or book preservation for your club or organization, please email me at email@example.com or call (630) 220-0730. And, of course, please visit www.exhibitsmith.com for more information about me.
Thanks again to Jamie for this opportunity – now, off to preserve some books!