Taking care of your rare books

by Gemma
Publish date
11 July 2014
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Gemma is a librarian at Museum Victoria.

Of course we all love books, but, if I have learned anything from compulsively reading Pride and Prejudice year on year it is this: sometimes we hurt the ones we love. So with Melbourne Rare Book Week fast approaching, whether you are a keen collector or someone who has come across a hidden gem in the garage, here are five golden rules to follow to take care of your own collection:

1. Wash your hands

When reading or flicking through your books make sure your hands are clean and dry because oils, perspiration, dirt and food residue can cause a lot of damage.

A Book Conservator at Work A conservator carefully handles a book. Preventive conservation protocols protect the lifespan of cultural objects while allowing them to be viewed safely.
Source: Creative Commons via Wikicommons.

2. Be gentle!

Some books will not want to lie open at 180 degrees; if the spine does not want to bend in a particular way then it is best not to force it as this can cause damage. Turn pages from the side rather than the corner and when removing books from a shelf always pull it from the sides rather than the top of the spine.

3. Light and temperature

Keep your book collection in a cool place with minimal exposure to light and away from areas with radiators or vents.

4. Storage

Store books either upright or lying flat, not leaning at an angle. Books should be supported on either side by books or book stands of similar size, and it is best not to pack the books in too tightly. Large, heavy folio-size books are best stored flat.

books on a shelf An example of bad book storage!
Image: Jon Sullivan
Source: Books on a shelf by Jon Sullivan

5. Dust regularly

Dust your books often as dust can quickly accumulate on books. It is very important to remember that, if the conditions are right, dust can be a food source for mould and mildew!

Another important tip would be not to attempt to carry out any books repairs yourself. While it may be tempting, you may end up damaging the book further and reducing its value. Museum Victoria’s paper conservator will be on hand to offer advice on caring for books and other printed material at our Rare Book Discovery Day on Saturday 19 July. Also on the panel of experts at this free event will be leading antiquarian book, print and map dealers who can assess and appraise your items.

Rare Book Discovery Day is part of Melbourne Rare Book Week. Check out the Rare Book Week website for more events around town.


MV Blog: Rare Book Discovery Day 2013

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Updates on what's happening at Melbourne Museum, the Immigration Museum, Scienceworks, the Royal Exhibition Building, and beyond.