It’s not uncommon for Charlene Matthews to read and repair irreplaceable books that have passed through many homes for hundreds of years. With strong hands stained with ink, Matthews runs one of the few surviving binderies in Los Angeles. She has been fixing book blunders for more than 30 years while teaching her customers how to store books to prevent future damage.
Matthews single-handily saves the lives of stories and treasured family heirlooms, such as photo albums and bibles handed down for generations. Book lovers, she said, should follow some simple steps to preserve their literature.
“A book never belongs to one person its whole life,” she said. “It’s a wanderer and goes place to place. There’s not too many things in the world like that. That’s why it’s your responsibility to take care of that book.”
To ensure your library lives to tell many tales, make sure your book storage standards are in line with these expert tips.
Keep Humidity and Water Away from Stored Books
Water and paper have never been friends, so make sure to store your book collection far away from moisture.
Surrounded by rows and rows of beautiful books – everything from poems to graphic novels – literati Lisa Morton works at The Iliad Bookshop in North Hollywood, and warns readers that mold and mildew are a death sentence for books.
“There’s really nothing you can do (with a moldy book) except separate it from other books, so the mildew doesn’t spread,” Morton said.
Matthews said the one of the only ways to save a newly-wetted book is to place it in the freezer. You can take the frozen pages to an expert for help.
“I can deal with a wet book, but when mold starts to grow, that’s tough to deal with,” she agreed.
One tip Morton has heard, but never tried, is to put a musty book in a plastic bag of cat litter to reduce the smell. Since two cats – Zeus and Apollo – guard The Iliad Bookshop, Morton might have some on hand if you stop by!
To prevent having to worry about such details, keep books away from moisture and keep them protected using archival plastic jackets on hardcovers and Mylar bags on paperbacks, Morton said.
How to Store Books in Boxes
As much as we’d all love an extra room (maybe more!) to display an ever-growing book collection, sometimes that’s just not possible and you have to keep them stored and out of sight.
To avoid to water, humidity, dirt and dust, be sure to store books in air-tight, plastic boxes and stack the books horizontally to prevent damage, Morton said.
“Spine-to-spine has always been the best bet,” she added.
Plastic boxes will also protect stored books from devastating insects, like silverfish, cockroaches and rats.
“Paper boxes can and will collapse and pests will get in,” Matthews said. “Plastic boxes are so cheap now, they’re worth the investment.”
Weight Will Break a Stored Book
Whether your library is shelved or stored, one of the most important things to remember is to keep weight off of books. The more weight on top, the more likely a spine is to roll, crack and break.
Matthews says you should also avoid stuffing too many mementos between the pages, as they will slowly stretch and break the spine of a book – its lifeline.
“The spine of a book is its body, and if you put too much pressure on it, it will break,” she said.
In addition to repairing bindings, Matthews also builds clamshell boxes that fit snuggly around books to protect them from weight, dust and dirt.
“Books love to grab dirt,” she said with a laugh.
The number of damaged books she sees has doubled in the past few years, evidence that people love their collections, and a reminder to protect books in order to keep their stories alive.