There are recommended ways to store your books to protect them as much as possible from deterioration. While climate and moisture controlled storage is highly recommended, it may not always be possible to find optimal storage locations for a prized book collection.
Managing each of the elements which come under the heading of ‘climate’ can take careful attention. The temperature and humidity must be kept within the best range. Other factors to consider are pests, containers, and lighting.
While many commercial storage units today offer climate-controlled units, the distance or the cost may not work for you. If you are exploring storage areas in your residence, climate control issues are typically found in attics, basements, garages, or other outbuildings. Here are some measures that will help to take the best possible care of your books when you can’t control the climate.
What to look for when choosing storage that is less than perfect
If you have ruled out the perfect storage conditions for your books, you will need to do the best you can to find ways to ameliorate climate control challenges. Before picking a place for your books, do a careful assessment of the location. Rather than just give up your quest for the perfect, use your ingenuity to manage existing space to make the best of a less than ideal location. In a building which is insulated and clean, you still need to check humidity levels and pest control.
Structure of the storage space
If you have the opportunity to prepare the space carefully before moving your books into the area, there are things you can do to make a less-than-ideal location more appropriate for your books. Review the space looking for areas where problems of moisture, dirt, insects, and temperature can easily arise. Gaps in the structure, little or no insulation, open windows, and other quirks can result in increased opportunity for pests, mold, moisture, and dirt to affect the book condition.
Because exterior walls tend to fluctuate in temperature more readily, placing books against the exterior walls is not recommended. Also, books should not be placed in boxes or containers directly on the floor. The risk of moisture and pests is the guiding factor for this recommendation.
If your designated space has windows, even small ones, the ultraviolet rays of the sun can cause fading, dry and brittle pages, and weakened fibers in book covers. The best storage area does not have sunlight, or artificial light with UV range. If there are windows, they should be covered so the risk of fading and book deterioration is reduced.
When the climate is not regulated in your storage space, it may or may not be subject to insect and pest infestation. When you are doing an assessment of the space, look for any indication of mice or other rodents. If the space is in an outbuilding, even small gaps can allow rodents to enter, Mice and rat droppings can destroy an entire library by making their nests from the paper and binding of the books. Feces and urine can ruin books even if they are not shredded for nesting material.
Pest control can be achieved at least partially by setting traps and careful cleaning. You will need to close up any cracks and crevices leading out of the area to prevent pests from entering the space once the books are in place.
Insect infestations are somewhat harder to address. Flying insects can quickly enter a space with even tiny crevices leading to the outside. Other insects such as silverfish in the larval stage create tunnels in the unprotected books, sometimes leaving pages reduced to lace. Some suggestions for insect control without overly heavy use of chemical repellents are best applied with care and only after reviewing any toxicity to humans and pets.
Mold and Mildew
Check the space carefully for any signs of mold or mildew. If there are existing mold or mildew blooms on walls, floors, or fixtures in the space, they must be eliminated before bringing your books into the space. The presence of mold is not something to be ignored. Professional treatment of the space may be necessary to eliminate the risk to people and pets. Before bringing books into the space, you should also be sure that you are not introducing mold into an otherwise acceptable space.
For best storage conditions, the relative humidity should be between 35 to 55 percent in a fairly narrow temperature range. A preliminary component of your assessment of the possible space for storage is to determine the typical relative humidity. The tool to measure relative humidity is a hygrometer, also called a humidity gauge. Place it in the area where the books could be stored and check the readings regularly.
The best temperature range for book storage is fairly narrow. Archivists suggest 68° F to 72° F for best results. Books which are stored at temperatures lower than this range are not generally harmed. Storing them at a temperature higher than the optimum range, however, can cause the growth of mold and mildew, especially when it is combined with a higher relative humidity reading. Higher temperatures in low humidity can cause drying and cracking of leather bindings.
Temperature and humidity fluctuations are also damaging to books. If you are searching for a place to store very delicate books, such as those which are very old and have fragile bindings or covers, it is best to find a more appropriate location with the features defined here. You can make some adjustments to reduce the most damaging elements in a non-climate controlled storage space, but if you are at all worried about the condition of your heirloom books, do not risk poor storage conditions.
TIP: More information about storing books in less than ideal environments can be found at “What is the best way to store books in a garage?”
Tips For Storing Your Collection
If you have prepared the space as well as you can to hold your books in storage, you can still do some things that further protect your books from the negative effects of climate. Seal off the space to avoid access by pests and vermin. Reduce the amount of light which enters the area, and monitor the humidity. Be sure to raise any boxes or bins above floor level to allow for air circulation and to avoid drawing dampness in the event of flooding.
The best containers for long term storage of books are watertight plastic bins. These bins seal tight so that flooding or dampness from outside won’t permeate through the plastic. However, plastic containers will not allow moisture to be released either. Any change in temperature can lead to mold and condensation on the inside of the container. This condition will in turn lead to mold blooms and mildew appearance.
To avoid any hint of moisture within the containers, place packets of reusable desiccants within the bins. This will help to protect against condensation on the inside of the bin. You will need to check the bins on a regular basis to ensure that the contents are not deteriorating.
Don’t use cardboard boxes for your storage containers. Cardboard cannot withstand mice chewing through the walls. Cardboard also tends to absorb moisture even if the space is not flooding. The stability of cardboard boxes is not guaranteed. Cocked boxes can cause the books to be improperly supported.
When packing your books, place them with the spine edge to the walls of the bin. Make sure they are clean and dry. Don’t place books with any indication of insect residue in the bin. Books should be approximately the same size and shape so that the spines are supported. They should be packed snugly enough that they don’t fall or shift position, with resulting wear. At the same time they should be easy to remove if need be.
For a true book lover, finding a place to store an ever expanding collection can be a challenge. There are many clever and innovative storage ideas which are better than placing books in a less than ideal non-climate controlled location. If you do not have other alternatives, make sure that you do everything possible to protect your books from the ravages of dirt, insects or other pests, mold and mildew, moisture, and UV light rays. For particularly valuable, fragile, or irreplaceable books, it is best to find a safer storage location for them.