There are various reasons why you might decide to place your book collection in long term storage. Sometimes your living situation requires storing books that previously were displayed. Whatever the reason why books are stored, it is important to do it correctly so that the condition of the volumes will be maintained and preserved.
Whether your collection of books consists of paperbacks or valuable signed first editions, protecting them from the ravages of time, environment, and improper handling is the ultimate goal. Consider the value and condition of the books you wish to prepare for storage, and the storage environment.
When you are looking for some recommendations about preparing and placing your book collection into long term storage, keep in mind the condition, environment, and storage containers for optimal results. The priorities for proper storage include lighting, moisture, and temperature, among other categories. Here are some additional explanations about preparing your books to survive long-term storage.
Where will the books be housed?
Before starting the process of packing your books and placing them in a convenient location, it is helpful to do an assessment of places which are available and meet the requirements for the environment over the long term. Most people do not have the space or the finances to construct a library vault with necessary climate controls and pest preventative measures. There are, however, certain features to look for in determining the best storage locations.
Within a residence, some out-of-the-way storage locations include closets, basements, attics, and spare rooms. The location of these spaces and their cubic footage can be part of the assessment process.
If you are able to set aside space in a residence, the need to look for temperature control, lighting, humidity levels, pest prevention, and air movement are still important. If you are placing the stored books in a location other than a residence, some of the options include garages, warehouses, commercial storage units, and pods or shipping containers.
What are Environmental Guidelines for a Storage Space?
Once you have found a space which might be appropriate for storing your books, you need to be aware of other factors. These include temperature, relative humidity, lighting, and potential for pest access. Published guidelines and standards for each of these factors are relatively easy to locate, thanks to the internet and other media options.
The guidelines for appropriate library temperature ranges are identified as 68 F to 72 F. However, somewhat colder temperatures for long term storage are better. The purpose of temperature control is to avoid the growth of mold. Temperatures which are above the high end of the optimum range can lead to mold and mildew blooms, Temperatures which are too cold may cause the paper to become brittle, particularly if the relative humidity is not adjusted correctly.
Just as important as the correct range is the avoidance of rapid swings of temperature. The fibers in the pages and in the bindings expand and contract at different rates, which can cause pages to wrinkle or lift, while the boards in the binding may bow.
The suggested relative humidity is 40% to 50%, within the recommended temperature range. However, some archivists recommend humidity levels as low as 30%. Keep in mind that the temperature and humidity work in tandem with each other, so both should be monitored to keep the conditions as good as possible. As with temperature standards, a rapid fluctuation of either standard is to be avoided wherever possible. If you have smart house apps available, out of range fluctuations can be monitored digitally.
For better control of humidity in a larger area, consider the acquisition of a standalone dehumidifier. These operate either as a refrigerant type or a desiccant type.
A storage location with bright lights is not good for your books. Any natural sunlight contains ultraviolet spectrum rays which can cause damage to your books such as fading, shadows, and actual deterioration of the bindings and paper. Certain types of artificial lights are also harmful due to the presence of ultraviolet rays. LED lights are best, but even the UV-free choices should not be used over long periods.
Any storage area could be subject to infestations of various types of pests. These can include insects and their larvae, mice, rats, and other vermin. While pest control services can come into a space and spray or otherwise treat for prevention of infestation, you may not want the effects of some pest control chemicals to affect the condition of the books. Be aware of the effects of any chemical methods and products and their possible impact on your book collection.
Any infestation of insects and other pests can be very harmful to books. As part of your storage preparation, you will need to take measures to prevent insect presence. Insects can take up residence in books if the books are not protected before packing them, and if containers are not able to keep out later insect attacks. The same is true of mice and rats. Prevent access for best protection.
Orientation and Air Flow
When you are preparing the storage site, the orientation of the containers is important. The stored books should not be placed against an exterior wall. They should not be placed in sunlight. They should not be placed on a floor or space that is subject to water or moisture. Depending on the type of container, dampness which wicks up through materials such as cardboard or even wood can destroy books.
Leave at least two inches of air space around books or storage containers so that the air can move. This will help to prevent mold spores from settling on the books or other surfaces. It also helps to prevent moisture and temperature fluctuations.
TIP: For more information about storage of books, see ‘How Do You Keep Old Books In Good Condition?’
What are the Steps For Packing Your Books For Storage?
Now that you know where your stored books will be placed, it is time to do the actual packing. The location will affect some of the steps in the packing process. Place the storage container at a good height for packing.
What is the preferred storage container?
Picking your storage containers is the first step in the storage process. There are several options, with different advantages and disadvantages. Some of the common choices are cardboard, archival boxes, and plastic. The durability, cost, and protective qualities are the factors to understand when choosing a container.
One popular option is plastic. Plastic containers are impervious to moisture, and don’t allow insects to enter once the bins are sealed up. Keeping moisture out of the books is the best reason for choosing plastic tubs or bins to hold books. Plastic tends to hold its shape and can be stacked, thus conserving space in the storage area. Unfortunately, if books are at all moist when placed in the container, they will remain damp, providing the perfect environment for mold spores to affect the books in the bin.
Moisture inside the bin can also condense on the inside of the container, particularly when there are temperature fluctuations in the surrounding space. Placing desiccant packets such as silica gel in the bins can help, but it is best to do the packing on a day with low relative humidity, and to dry the books prior to placing them in the boxes.
Plastic bins and totes are not recommended for storage of books in areas with high humidity. The risk of moisture being trapped inside the bin is a major problem. A desiccant must be used in conditions where humidity is high, or condensation is a risk. Purchasing plastic bins can run into a significant amount of money, but overall, considering the best value for the money, plastic may be your best choice.
Cardboard boxes for storage have the advantage of being readily available. However, they do not hold up well in damp or overly dry conditions. They do not prevent insects from nesting or eating books, and they won’t protect your books in the event of a leak, flood, or humidity. The strength of the cardboard can vary significantly, depending on the design and construction of the underlying materials. Cardboard also tends to be higher in lignins, which are the fibers that make up paper products. The acid content may be higher than recommended for books.
Archival and acid-free boxes are used for valuable and rare books and manuscripts. Like plastic bins, there can be a cost involved in acquiring the boxes. Like regular cardboard containers, the archival boxes do not withstand water or pest predators. However they are built to hold heavy books and can be easily stacked to conserve storage space.
Cleaning and removal of other debris
Routine care of books is important to help them maintain their condition. It is especially important to ensure that books are clean and dry before placing them in the chosen storage bins. Remove any loose objects and papers that are in the books. This can include plant material, food crumbs, pens or markers, and paper clips, just to name a few. Remove sticky notes as well. People who are reading a book and are interrupted are likely to grab the nearest item to mark their place.
Other things which have been found in books are the subject of essays and humor columns. A brief list includes raw bacon, love letters, and divorce decrees.You certainly don’t want to find preserved food in the pages of your prized first edition months later.
Wipe down the outside of the book and the page edges with a soft cloth or brush.. Straighten any bent corners or pages, and check for signs of larvae or insect dropping. Treat the books before placing them in the container. Any evidence of mold or mildew should be treated by freezing and gentle cleaning. Never place an infected book in the container with other books until it is cleaned.
It is a good idea to wear light gloves when handling books for packing or cleaning. This will help to keep skin oils off the pages and binding. If you are dealing with books that have any evidence of mold, you may also want to wear a breathing mask to prevent inhalation of mold spores.
The next step in the long-term storage process is the actual placement of the books into the containers.The way you place your books into the bins does make a difference in the condition of the book months or years later. The contents of each bin is also important.
Instead of using regular wrapping paper to protect your books, choose acid-free paper instead, as the long-term storage results will be better when you are not using high acid paper. For even more protection, you can place acid-free paper between the pages of particularly valuable volumes.
Sort your hardcover books so that you are packing books of the same size together. This approach will help to ensure that each book is supported by the ones on either side. The spine edges of the book should be placed against the sides of the boxes. Do not overcrowd the books, but try to minimize air pockets in the box, as this will lead to better results overall. Wadded up paper placed in any air pockets will prevent books from shifting during transit.
Paperback books should be packed in flat stacks. You can also set the books in the container with the spine end down so that paper edges face toward the top of the box. Placing books with the spine edge up can cause the pages to bend. You could also use several different orientations in the same box, in order to make the best use of space.
A desiccant such as silica gel should be placed into each box or bin to help avoid a build-up of moisture and condensation in the bin. There are also other drying agents available from merchants who deal in book restoration and archival materials.
Insulation of your boxed books is not something that is demanded, but some book owners use it as additional protection. However, storing books in plastic bags is definitely not a recommended approach to long-term storage. Books need to breathe. Plastic bags can trap moisture, which in turn encourages pests, warping and mold. Plastic can also interact with the book. If a bag is needed, use a paper bag, or a wrap of plain cloth, paper, or tissue. Acid-free materials are preferred.
Should books be stored flat or upright?
The orientation of books when on the shelf or in storage depends on several things. These include the size and shape of the book, and where the storage is taking place. It also makes a difference if the book is a mass market paperback or a hardcover book.
The goal of placing hardcover books on a shelf is to ensure that the spine is supported along the entire spine edge. This means placing books of similar size together, so long as they are placed on the shelf in the suggested position. Oversized books, such as Folio and Elephant Folio measurements can be placed flat on top of the bookcase. Just be certain that there is no sideways pressure on the spine of the book.
If you are stacking books, they should not be placed more than three books high. Any alignment that puts pressure on the boards or the spine edge is not recommended. Unless stacked books are the exact same size, excess pressure on the boards can result. If you are using this practice, be sure to change the uppermost book periodically.
Soft cover books that are too flexible to easily stand upright can be placed in magazine storage boxes. Alternatively, they could be placed inside three-ring binders.
Storage Container Packing Tips
Packing suggestions for preparing your books for long-term storage encourage hardcover books to be placed in bins with the spine side to the exterior. Paperback books can be stacked flat, but never with the leading page edges facing downward, as this can cause the pages to bend.
For anyone who is planning to move, or who has less space in their residence for books than they have to display the books, packing some of the books in boxes or bins may solve some space limitations in homes or businesses. When packing for long term storage, the expectation is that you will not be accessing the stored volumes for a long period of time, so the more organization you can maintain, the better.