- How do I preserve my books?
- What do I do if my books have damage and need repair?
- Should I oil my leather books?
- Should I use gloves when handling rare books?
- Can I bring my books to the Library of Congress for conservation?
- How can I find out how much my book is worth?
- Can I donate my books to the Library of Congress?
- How do I copyright my book?
- How should I pack books for storage or shipping?
- If I have to store my books in the basement or attic, should I put them in plastic bags or bins?
- What should I do if my books get wet or moldy?
- How can I get rid of a musty or mildewy smell from my books?
- How do I get rid of bookworms and bookbugs?
- Are wood bookshelves OK to use?
- How should I clean my books and bookshelves?
- Is it okay to use self-stick (pressure-sensitive) call number labels? What kind?
- How do I find more information about Library of Congress ink for edge stamping books?
The most effective and economical preservation measures are preventive: good care, storage, and handling.
Conservation work to address damage is time consuming and costly to do correctly.
If the book is of value as a collector's item and infrequently used, consider leaving the book as-is and focusing on improving storage conditions.
If the book is of personal/sentimental value only, the damage is minor, and some risk of further damage from do-it-yourelf repair is acceptable, the Northeast Document Conservation Center has put together useful information for dry surface cleaning of paper and mending tears . Do not use self-stick tape, even if it is marketed as "archival."
If the item is of particular value, has progressing damage, is handled frequently, or is otherwise complicated, consider consulting a conservator.
Contrary to historical practice, do not oil or dress leather books. If the leather is crumbling, powdery, and spreading everywhere, the best options are to box the item or to consult a conservator, who can also address other condition problems that may arise with deteriorating leather, including stiffness and dessication. For books that need to be handled, a polyester film jacket can help prevent the transfer of leather rot from hands to the pages.
Contrary to widespread belief, gloves are not necessarily recommended to handle rare or valuable books. Gloves (nitrile or vinyl) are always recommended if there is reason to suspect a health hazard (e.g., mold, arsenic). Gloves (nitrile, vinyl, or cotton) are also recommended when handling photograph albums/photographs or books with metal or ivory parts. Aside from those specific situations, it is generally preferable to handle your books with clean hands, washed with soap and thoroughly dried, rather than with gloves. Why? See "Misperceptions About White Gloves ," pp. 4-16 from International Preservation News [PDF: 1.08 MB / 52 pp.]
Congress stipulates that the Library preserve and maintain the collection of the Library of Congress only.
Two main options for obtaining conservation services are with a conservator in private practice or at a regional conservation center. The website of the American Institute for Conservation (AIC) features information on How to Choose a Conservator and How to Find a Conservator by region, specialty, type of service, etc. The Regional Alliance for Preservation maintains a list of U.S. regional conservation centers by geographic area.
By stipulation of Congress, the Library of Congress cannot provide appraisal services.
The Smithsonian Institution has a helpful resource on gaining an identification, value, and offer for objects in general. For books specifically, Your Old Books (Rare Book and Manuscript Section, American Library Association) addresses some frequently asked questions about rare books and various aspects of collecting, including terminology, condition, and value. The Antiquarian Booksellers Association of America also has information on collecting, appraising, and selling as well as a directory of booksellers and appraisers.
The Library's Acquisitions office handles donations of books and other materials.
The United States Copyright Office handles copyright registrations.
Choose boxes that are not too large or the packed box will be too heavy to handle safely.
Choose acid- and lignin-free storage boxes if books will be stored for a prolonged period of time.
Pack books flat in the box with heavier and larger volumes at the bottom or pack books vertically, spine down.
Center the weight of the books in the box for handling safety; pad out empty space; avoid overpacking the box.
Follow recommendations for good storage environment.
For further information and useful diagrams, see Packing and Shipping books (Vanderbilt University’s Heard Library); Packing & storing books (State Library of Victoria); Packing and Shipping Paper Artifacts (Northeast Document Conservation Center).
Polyethylene or polypropylene bags or bins are useful as a secondary protection against water damage (first protection is avoiding areas of higher water risk), but do not offer protection against the deteriorating effects of the high temperatures and high humidities found in basements and attics. Avoid storing objects of value in basements and attics.
Take necessary safety precautions if the water is contaminated with sewage or other hazards or if there is active (wet or furry) mold growth.
To prevent mold growth, set out books to dry immediately upon getting wet and control the ambient temperature and relative humidity.
If newly wet books cannot be air dried within two days, prepare and freeze [PDF: 186 KB/ 4 pp.].
If there is moist or furry mold visible, follow the instructions above for drying wet/damp books and, only when thoroughly dry, for removing mold.
If there are mold stains only, ensure ambient relative humidity stays between 40-65% to prevent regrowth; check items regularly.
If there is active (wet or furry) or dried mold, follow the procedures outlined above: What should I do if my books get wet or moldy?
Over time, musty odors will decrease when items are stored in cool environments with good air circulation and relative humidity between 40-65%.
Additionally, you can: Increase the surface area of the book that is exposed to air -- stand hardcover books slightly open to allow pages to fan out for several days; Place book in a closed container with activated charcoal or baking soda (prevent the book from coming into contact with the charcoal or baking soda and check often to make sure there is no mold growth) for several days; Briefly expose book to sunlight, but only if the possibility of fading/discoloration/yellowing is acceptable.
Kill insects by freezing. Before freezing, keep book at room temperature with a relative humidity between 40-60% for a few days. Then place book in a ziplock bag, evacuate as much air as possible, seal, and place flat on a clean, empty freezer shelf (regular household kitchen freezers can reach -20 degrees C, which is adequately cold, but turn off frost-free feature). After a few days, remove bag from freezer, leave sealed (but remove book if ice crystals have formed inside the bag), and allow to reach room temperature. Monitor regularly for bug activity. Repeated cycles of freezing can kill hearty bugs.
One of the best ways to avoid pests in the future is good housekeeping and maintaining appropriate temperature and relative humidity where collections are stored.
For further information, see Integrated Pest Management (University Library, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign).
When purchasing new shelving, metal shelves are preferable over wood shelves because the acids present in wood can migrate into paper and books and cause deterioration.
Existing wood shelves that cannot be replaced can be lined with a barrier such as polyester film, corrugated polyethylene or polypropylene board, metal foil laminate, acrylic sheet, or glass, to prevent books from coming into direct contact with the wood.
Good housekeeping is an essential component of preventive care, as dust and dirt can promote chemical deterioration, trap moisture, attract pests, mar appearance, and cause other problems.
Keep books off the floor. Vacuum and mop floors regularly, but take care not to splash water on books on bottom bookshelves. Maintain HVAC systems and filters. Wipe shelves with magnetic dusting cloths that do not contain any chemical agents. Wipe books with smooth covers and smooth page edges (hold the book firmly closed) with magnetic dusting cloths. Use a soft artists' brush to sweep dust from books with rough surfaces and uneven page edges (hold the book firmly closed) into a vacuum hose; dial down the suction power or open a bleed to reduce the suction for safer handling.
For further information, see Cleaning Books and Shelves (Northeast Document Conservation Center).
The Library of Congress has developed specifications for pressure-sensitive call number labels that can be affixed to book spines.
An alternative to applying pressure-sensitive labels directly to book spines is to box the book (phase box, corrugated clamshell, cloth covered clamshell, etc.) and affix the label to the box.
Libraries, archives, museums, and other cultural heritage institutions may request ink developed for edge stamping collections.