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What Is The Best Container To Store Books In?

Even though some people do much of their reading using digital formats nowadays, hard bound books and their soft cover cousins can still take up a significant amount of room in a residence. When choosing the best container for storing printed volumes, there are several factors to consider.

The best container to use for storing a book collection is one which limits moisture, dirt, insects, and ultraviolet rays from reaching the books. You should also consider where and for how long the books will be stored.

As anyone who has ever seen deterioration from improperly stored books, it can be an experience which not only is costly, but in some cases represents destruction of irreplaceable information. Learning some options for storage containers may provide an improved plan for protecting well-loved volumes from ending up in the recycle bin.

What Are the Storage Container Options?

There are options which the book lover can use to provide appropriate care and protection for books. Cardboard is one type of container, but not every cardboard box is created the same. There are also numerous different designs for plastic containers, some of which are more functional than others. When deciding on the type of storage container to be used, here are some of the characteristics which should be considered.

Moisture, Dampness, and Relative Humidity.

When there is moisture in the storage location, your books must be protected against absorption of dampness, regardless of the source. A humid climate, leaks in plumbing systems, a violent storm with risk of flooding, and other sources of moisture are all very damaging to books. Because the binding and the pages of the books are made of somewhat different materials, they absorb moisture at different speeds. This can result in moisture ripples in the pages, as well as bowing to the boards of the book.

Mold can develop relatively quickly if books are in a container where there is moisture from the outside or the inside. Books which are not totally dry and are placed in a warm environment where there is food in the form of paper and cloth fibers, glue, and other materials used to prepare and bind the book, will soon manifest a mold bloom. Some of the types of mold can be harmful to humans and pets, and most species of fungi are harmful to books. 

In order to address the issue of moisture in a storage container, you must begin with ensuring that the dampness coming from outside the container is limited to as low of a percentage as possible. Since plastic is not permeable, the moisture in the world outside of the container cannot enter directly by wicking through the walls. Unfortunately for the books stored in cardboard, moisture can easily make its way through the walls of cardboard boxes. 

The challenge with plastic containers is not that moisture is kept out of the container, but that any moisture which is already in the books is not able to escape. If the humidity is high enough, moisture will condense on the walls inside of the container and lead to problems with mold, mildew, and deterioration of the books kept inside. 

For long-term storage (or temporary storage, such as during a move) in a humid environment, finding plastic containers of the right size and shape is only the first step.  Placing the volumes in the container, aligning them in the correct way, and then adding packets of silica gel or other desiccants is an appropriate way to prevent moisture damage to books in storage.

Artificial Lighting and the Sun’s Rays

Plastic can be designed to block none, some, or all of the sun’s rays. Clear or near clear plastic allows you to be able to see the contents easily. Under no circumstances should books be placed directly in the path of the rays. Fading, shadows, and sunning are all terms used to describe what happens when even a few minutes’ worth of direct sunlight is allowed to fall on a book. 

Cardboard doesn’t let any harmful rays into a closed box, but the box of cardboard can dry out quickly, and affect the dryness levels of the books stored inside. Paper and cardboard can become quite brittle as it dries, and fluctuations in temperature combined with changes in moisture can negatively affect the glue in bindings as well.

Insect Damage

When you have your books stored in a plastic container, it is not possible for insects to eat their way directly through the plastic in order to attack the books. However, as with the moisture issues, insects, eggs, and larvae which are already present in the books when the books are packed can do a great deal of damage. Depending upon the type of insect, the pests may eat the fibers of the pages or bindings, or may tunnel into the books to lay eggs. 

Insects such as termites will eat through cardboard boxes on their way to feast on book pages, glue, and materials used in bindings. An infestation of termites can leave nothing but lacy pages where your books used to reside. 

Keeping insects out of your books, whether they are stored in containers or sitting on an open shelf, is a necessity if you want your collection to remain in good condition. Using the services of a pest control professional may be one way to eliminate pests, but you can also take advantage of some home remedies, such as freezing the books inside a sealed plastic bag for several days before packing them away in the final storage container, to destroy larvae, eggs, and spores which may be hiding inside. 

Temperature control

The ambient temperature in the area where your books are stored is important to safeguard against damage to books and bindings, but the material of the storage container itself is less critical.  A storage area that is maintained at a temperature in the 68° to 72°F range is ideal for book storage. Sharp fluctuations outside of this range, especially in conjunction with rapid changes in humidity, however, can cause problems.

If plastic storage containers are subject to very cold temperatures, particularly those which came on rather suddenly, they can tend to become brittle and can crack, leaving books exposed to all of the bad elements. On the other hand, extreme heat can start to melt and deform plastic containers, not to mention the books stored within.

Cardboard doesn’t suffer from the same problems with respect to temperature fluctuations, but is adversely affected by moisture to a much greater extent.

Long-term storage boxes

Acid free and archival cardboard boxes may represent an interim step if you can’t make the financial investment required to use plastic boxes. Some so-called bankers’ boxes are archival quality, and were originally intended to store records during the days when all transactions were recorded on paper, and the papers were then tucked away in storage areas. Modern versions of bankers’ boxes, made of archival cardboard with limitations on acid-content, are able to hold books successfully. The boxes are available in uniform size and are sturdy enough to stack.

Can You Store Books In Cardboard Boxes?

One positive characteristic of cardboard boxes is that they are plentiful. They are not expensive in most cases and you may even be able to find a source of run-of-the-mill cardboard at no cost to you. This is not true of plastic boxes. They can be inexpensive, but they may also crack or split easily even from mild use. 

Cardboard boxes come in a range of sizes and durability. Books can be packed in smaller boxes so there is no problem with the weight of the box. A brief list of some of the pros and cons follows:

Pros of Cardboard Boxes

  • Low or no cost
  • Readily available
  • Walls are sturdy and protect contents
  • Light blocked
  • Environmentally friendly
  • Boxes don’t weigh much

Cons of Cardboard Boxes

  • Not water resistant
  • Insects are drawn to boxes and books
  • Walls may not protect against damage

TIP: Do you want to learn more about storage containers? See the article “Is it better to store books in cardboard or plastic boxes?”

Which Style of Container Best Suits the Purposes?

Perhaps just as important as the material which makes cardboard or plastic containers the storage material of choice, is the length of time the books will be stored. If you are planning a long-distance move and do not expect that the books will not remain in the container for a long time, cardboard may be a choice that meets all of your immediate needs and is available at little or no cost. 

If your storage term expectations are a little longer, or if you have concerns of moisture in the environment, well-constructed plastic containers may be best suited to your needs.  Be aware that books in either type of container need to be clean, dry, and free of pests and contamination before storage.