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Book Preservation

Preservation Guidelines for Books & Archival Materials

Certain elements and conditions in our environment can contribute to and even accelerate the deterioration of book and archival collections.  Steps should be taken to preserve and maintain the useful life of these materials. Below are general preservation guidelines that can be easily applied to home libraries.

Temperature & Humidity

Ideal levels are 68-72° F, with 40-50% RH.  Monitor temperature and humidity levels.  Excessive fluctuations in temperature and relative humidity can be particularly damaging to book.

Light Levels

All light is damaging to books and the materials from which they are made, especially light containing UV rays (such as sunlight and fluorescent light).  Minimize light exposure as much as possible using drapes or shades.  UV filters may also be used to decrease the potential of light damage.


Good air circulation around books should be maintained in storage areas.  Avoid placing bookshelves against outer walls or near windows.  Do not store books in attics or basements.  These areas have the greatest fluctuations in temperature and humidity levels and can be very damaging to books.


Book collections should be stored on bookshelves made from metal or sealed wood.  Unsealed wood releases damaging acidic vapors into the environment and can accelerate the deterioration of books.  Books should not be shelved too tightly or they may be damaged when removed or reshelved.  The use of bookends to hold books upright will eliminate strain on the bindings that leaning would cause. Tall books may be shelved with the spine down, never with the foredge down.  Oversized items may be stored lying flat on the shelf; if two or more books are stacked in this way, they should be arranged in size from largest on the bottom to smallest on top.


Avoid handling books with unwashed hands.  Do not pull books from shelves by the headcaps, as this will ultimately cause damage to the spine.  Instead, push back the books on either side of the book to be retrieved, grasp the book with one hand and use the other hand to support it from underneath.  Once a book is removed from the shelf, the remaining books should be readjusted into an upright position, the bookend moved to support the books.  Do not attempt to carry more books than can be comfortably handled.  Most books cannot be opened flat without some level of damage to the binding occurring.  The use of cradles or supports will eliminate this problem.


Regular cleaning of areas where books are stored will ensure the protection of collections from particulate pollutants including dust and mold.  It will also discourage insects and pests from devastating book collections.  HEPA vacuum cleaners and cleaning cloths to which particulates adhere are very effective.  HEPA air filters are also recommended.

Archival Storage Materials & Enclosures

Appropriate storage materials should be provided for fragile materials.  A variety of prefabricated archival storage materials are available to house books and other items. When selecting storage materials for your book and archival collections be certain that the materials from which they are made are chemically stable.  Paper and board should be acid-free, alkaline buffered, and lignin-free.  Clear plastic enclosures should be uncoated and free of additives.  Polyester, polypropylene and polyethylene are three types of plastic that are suitable for long-term storage.  Custom-made enclosures can also be constructed for book collection materials.  These enclosures act as protective shells to books and other items by keeping out dust and light, acting as buffers against atmospheric pollutants and fluctuations in the ambient environment, and providing support and stability to weak and fragile materials.