Book Care, Storage and Repair

I love books. I really love books. Remember that scene in Beauty and the Beast, where Belle is overwhelmed with the massive, gorgeous wood library? That would have been me :) But books are simply pieces of thin wood glued together. They can EASILY be damaged by water, fire, bugs, humidity, and more. If you have books in your home, you'll have to take care of them or repair them at some point in time.

Basic Storage
Because a book is made of tree pulp, it is tasty to many creatures that eat wood. You want the book to be at a medium humidity and temperature. This means the humidity should be about 50% and the temperature between 50F and 80F. If the book gets too humid, it will grow mold. If it gets too dry, the pages will become brittle and fall apart. To help maintain the proper levels, you should never seal a book into anything. There should be good airflow. On a shelf, this means the book should not be up against the back of the shelf and there should be room up above the book top. In a box, the milk crate style box works well, so air can get in. Cardboard can often hold in humid air and mold.

Don't ever store books on the floor - that is where hungry critters live. If the books are in a basement, they can easily be flooded or damaged. Store the books up on shelves.

Basic Damage Repair
Usually it's best to talk with your local library about getting a book repaired. Things that you might try on your own, using tape or glue, can often cause more serious damage to the item. The most healthy way to keep a book at its current state is to take a pair of ribbons and tie them around the book - one lengthwise, one width-wise. That will keep the book together without putting anything permanent or damaging on the book.

Water Damaged Books
Just about every home has the potential for water damage. Homes along the southeast can easily see hurricane damage. Homes in the north can get a snowstorm with subsequent melts. Homes in the west can see flash flooding. If books are stored on the ground in the cellar, they're pretty much asking to be flooded - but even books up on shelves can get wet if the weather is bad enough. How do you try to save your precious books once they've gotten wet?

First, the key is to dry them out GRADUALLY. If you just threw the books into a hot oven, the quick temperature and humidity change would crisp the books, just like leaves. Your main concern here is mold. Mold can start up in only 2 days and will completely destroy the pages. Depending on the scope of the problem, you may not have time to worry about books right away, if your entire house was flooded. If that's the case, your best bet is to freeze the books. That will lock the damage at its current state, so that you can deal with it later. You can find companies to give you freezer space that is pretty inexpensive.

Once you are ready to deal with the books, you want to dry them out gradually while minimizing mold growth. Mold grows best in warm conditions, so make the room as cool as possible. Stand the book up on its end and fan the pages out, so that the book dries thoroughly. If the pages are glossy or coated, they will tend to stick together, so stick regular paper pieces in between the glossy pages to help them stay apart. Use gentle fans to keep the air circulating, and a de-humidifier to take the moisture out of the air. The books won't be "perfect" when they are dry - but they will still be books. Once they're dry, you might want to lay them down sideways and put weights on the covers, to help press them back into a normal shape.

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