Monday, April 24, 2017

Preservation Week Tip: Caring for Old Books

By Carol Roberts

April 23-29, 2017 marks "Preservation Week" highlighting the importance of preservation awareness. For Preservation Week, here's a reminder to take care of your valuable historic items. What should you do with those favorite rare books?

Keep them on book shelves, straight as little soldiers, just like at the library. That keeps the spines and book covers intact and carefully stored. Never pull a book off the shelf by the top edge. The upper edge of the spine breaks when pulling the top down and can break the spine cover off completely. Instead, push in on both sides to remove or replace a book.

Keep books in the best environment possible in the home. Keep them at a constant temperature and humidity because dramatic fluctuations in either of these conditions are stressful on the paper, bindings and covers - especially leather. Cool, dry and stable environments are best.

Avoid direct sunlight and fluorescent light because the ultraviolet radiation causes fading of the paper, ink and book covers.

When handling an old book, be gentle. Hold the book carefully, as if in a cradle. Do not stretch the spine when reading it. Keep the spine and text from stretching and hold it open at a 90-degree angle or less. Do not flatten or force a book down on a copier. There are new overhead copiers around these days that can provide copies without flattening them. Carefully turn the pages when paper is brittle or torn. This is a time when white cotton gloves - and the loss of dexterity you get when wearing them - can harm more than help.

Book collections need dusting like Grandma’s favorite china cabinet. Books can be dusted and gently cleaned by using a basic clean soft cloth. It is not necessary to use any chemicals because cleaning fluids often contain harmful substances. Handle books with washed and clean hands. Cotton gloves can be used when the pages aren't brittle or torn. Always handle a valuable book in a clean area to avoid getting more dirt and stains on the text.

If a book is already broken or damaged, a good acid-free box and acid-free tissue paper will do a great job of protecting it until it can be properly conserved by consulting a qualified conservator.

To learn more about archival preservation and care of books, see these technical leaflets and websites:

The Tennessee State Library and Archives is a division of the Tennessee Department of State and Tre Hargett, Secretary of State

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