Book Basics

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Book Materials and Construction | Book Care, Handling, and Storage

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Book Materials and Construction

Books are unique resources that are often irreplaceable. A basic understanding of how books are made can help illustrate how to care for them better.

The pages in a book may be held together by sewing, adhesive, or both. Older and larger volumes are typically sewn. Paperbacks and newer volumes may be bound with adhesive only. In these volumes, flexing the spine excessively can break the thin layer of adhesive and cause pages to become detached.

The bound pages of a book are housed in some type of cover, or case. The hinges are the places near the spine where the cover flexes as the book is opened and closed. The hinges experience significant stress and movement over years of use, and often sustain corresponding damage.

A book may be covered in leather, textile, or paper. These covering materials experience more light exposure and abrasion than other portions of the book, and can become brittle and fragile as a result.

Book Care, Handling, and Storage

The following guidelines can help prolong the lifetime of books:

  • Wash and dry your hands before handling books. Body oil, lotions, and food residue will continue to degrade paper for many years after they are deposited.

  • Do not force a book open. This can cause serious damage that is effectively irreversible. If photocopying, handle the book gently and use a machine built for library use whenever possible.

  • Do not remove a book from the shelf by pulling at the top of its spine. This can tear the spine covering and hinges. Instead, push neighboring books gently aside and grasp the book by the center of its spine.

  • Shelve books upright. Never shelve books on their fore-edge, the side opposite the spine. This will cause warping and hinge damage over time. Shelve oversize volumes flat or on their spines.

  • Shelve books with adequate support, neither overly tight nor loose. Tight shelving invites tugging and tearing by users. Loose shelving creates sagging, warping volumes.

  • Shelve similar-sized volumes together for better support. Consider that each book provides gentle support for its neighbor for many years.

  • Do not store books on the floor. Elevation even a few inches off the ground prevents damage in the majority of water disasters.

  • Do not use modern office supplies in books, including stick-on notes, paper clips, tape, and rubber bands. These products can cause cutting and tearing, and can leave an irreversible adhesive residue behind. Instead, use soft, flat cotton tape and archival folders and envelopes when needed.

  • Do not use leather dressing. In the past, collections caretakers were tempted to apply waxes and oils to leather in an attempt to restore their sheen and flexibility. Over time, these products cause damage to the leather and to the surrounding paper.

  • Use a support or cradle for opening large or fragile books. Remember that not all books can open flat on a table without splitting. If a book is even slightly resistant to opening, be safe and use a support, such as a pillow cradle.

  • Regularly dust or gently vacuum your collection to minimize abrasive dirt that can mask pest or mold activity.

  • Follow the recommendations for Pest Management and Environmental Control.

Preservation information provided by the Texas State Library and Archives Commission is intended only as a general guideline for collections care. The Texas State Library and Archives Commission is not responsible for any damage that might occur in the specific application of this information.

Page last modified: December 10, 2018