One thing that is true of most booklovers is that their collection continues to grow. Finding good storage locations in your house can be a challenge, particularly if you don’t like clutter. Some of the elements that affect book storage space include temperature, humidity, air circulation, and insect issues.
When storing books in your house and still having access to them, you will need to manage the temperature and relative humidity carefully. You will also need to keep the books clean and free of insects. Place the books to provide good air circulation.
Finding a good place for your book collection depends on the space you have available, and on the major components of book preservation. Here are some reminders about ensuring your books live in a space that includes underlying principles of temperature, moisture, air circulation and pest control.
Principles for storing books in your house
Most houses do not have the luxury of a separate space where books are stored in ideal conditions. New housing today tends to be smaller, in part because of the price, and in part because families are smaller. Few homes today have dedicated libraries. The closest space that contains book collections is called a ‘den’. More emphasis is placed on comfort for the people who use the space than on qualifications for preserving the condition of the books.
Certain parameters are used in defining an appropriate space where you can place your books. If you want them to be accessible for occasional removal to read, the entire area is subject to the best conditions to avoid destruction or deterioration of the books.
What is the best temperature to store books?
Archivists, who deal with old, fragile books and documents recommend a temperature in a fairly narrow range. If your library and reading area space is kept in the temperature range of 68°F to 72°F, your general collection of volumes will probably do well, too. Since these are comfortable levels for humans, when books are stored in your house, the heating and air conditioning system will help your books to be at an optimum temperature.
When the temperatures rise above 72° it can have negative effects on the paper and bindings which make up the volume. Very cold temperatures can slow down or eliminate insects in the books, but very high temperatures, particularly if the humidity is high, can create an unhealthy environment for books as well.
What is the best relative humidity level for your books?
The appropriate level of humidity for your books is approximately 50 percent relative humidity (RH). Too much moisture and your books will show signs of rippling, moisture stains and bowing. Moisture stains in page edges are difficult to impossible to remove, even with the modern drying methods. Moisture can cause pages to stick together and if not addressed quickly and correctly, the pages become unreadable.
If you drop the relative humidity to a level that is too low, it can cause the books to dry out. This is a common winter problem when you probably heat the indoor space to a comfortable level for humans and pets. Monitor the humidity levels in your house and use a humidifier if the air is too dry for comfort. A dehumidifier is useful when the humidity is too high in the area where the books are stored.
While maintaining an appropriate level for temperatures and relative humidity in your house is possible with technology available in smart houses, care must be taken to avoid rapid fluctuations in the levels. This can occur when there are hot days and cool nights. The rapid changes in ideal levels are a challenge to those booklovers who want the best possible environment for their books. The use of space heaters and air conditioning equipment may be required to maintain a consistent temperature and relative humidity.
Where should your books be placed?
The placement of the books is more than just aligning them on bookshelves. Your bookshelves should be constructed of the right materials and placed to avoid direct sunlight and other light sources.
Many people like the look and functionality of wood for bookshelves. When choosing the material for shelves, you should be aware of the negative effects which can occur when the shelves are not properly sealed. The oils and acidic content of various wood materials can have deteriorating effects on your books. For purposes of strength, ¾-inch plywood is better than MDF. Plywood also is less likely to leave dust.
Oak, birch and pine are three of the typical woods utilized when creating homemade shelving. Pine plywood is lightweight and inexpensive, but can split easily and is often knotty. Because of the potential for interaction between the wood and the books, use non-acidic shelf liners for protection. Bookshelves can also be constructed of metal, glass, and man-made products. Proper support for the weight of the books is the first requirement.
Bookshelves should be placed to allow for air circulation around the books. Don’t place bookshelves against exterior walls, since the temperatures and humidity tend to fluctuate more quickly in this position. You can use a fan to keep the air moving if necessary.
When placing the books on the shelves, books which are approximately the same dimensions will help to provide support for each other. The books should be stored upright on the shelves. They should not be packed so tightly that damage to the book occurs when trying to remove the book from the shelf. Similarly, the books should not be too loosely packed, as they don’t have enough support along the spine edge. By placing similar sized books together they are less likely to have bowed spines or cocked covers.
Books which are too large or too heavy to be placed vertically on the shelves can be stacked, but only by ensuring that the books are of similar size. Placing random-sized books in a horizontal stack can leave pressure marks on the lower volumes. The orientation of the stacks should be changed regularly, so that the bottom books don’t end up with pressure marks. The recommendation about the size of the horizontal stack is to limit it to no more than three books high.
Clean storage spaces
The shelved books should be removed from the shelves periodically to clean both the shelves and the books on a regular basis. Clean both the bindings and the page edges, using a soft cloth or a brush. Check for any evidence of insects or mold/mildew before replacing the books. Books which show signs of infestation should be separated from the other books and treated appropriately.
An environment which allows insects and other pests to make a meal of your books is not healthy for the books or the humans handling them. Rodents chew the paper and bindings to create nests, while insects open tunnels through the pages of the books. The result is tunnel-like formations into the interior of the books.
Some of the more common insects which ruin books include silverfish, beetles, book lice, and termites. The insects may lay eggs in the books, or may use the paper, glue and bindings as food. In either case it is important to separate and treat the books quickly to avoid further damage.
Mold and mildew
The fungi which can rapidly ruin a book is another reason for maintaining the proper temperature and humidity. Keeping books clean, dry and in a space with good air circulation is the best way to avoid a bloom of mold. In just a couple days, under the right conditions, mold and mildew spores can take over an entire shelf of books. Regular cleaning and monitoring of the condition will allow you to take the necessary steps to avoid a major outbreak of the unwanted fungi.
Storing your book collection in your house is the most common approach for most book lovers. The convenience of having volumes you enjoy, or need at your fingertips is the main reason for choosing your living space as the place where you keep your books. Because all residential spaces are not created equal, you will need to be aware of the basic foundations for storing books correctly.
Some of the major elements to consider when storing your books are temperature, relative humidity, cleanliness, pest and insect control, and air flow. You can also ensure that the books are not subject to rapid fluctuations in temperature or humidity. Align the books on the shelves to take advantage of the support of surrounding volumes.