Why You Need Bookshelves


 While the popularity of electronic books and ebook readers are on the rise, there are many readers who still love the feel of a physical book, and regard their personal collection as an indispensable manifestation of their tastes, personality, and individual history.  No matter whether they are collecting fine antiques, cheap paperbacks, or the latest bestsellers, book-lovers want the best for their personal library. Although different book care challenges may present themselves depending on a collector's geographical location, climate, available storage space, and budget, there are several commonsense principles that anyone can follow to keep their collection in fine condition.

The Importance of Bookshelves

 The purpose of bookshelves is not merely an aesthetic one. While books on a shelf or in a bookcase always look great, furnishing a touch of class to any room, the books themselves are also being stored in the way best suited to their preservation. Such books are in fact resting most comfortably in mutually-supportive ranks. This vertical bookshelf storage is the ideal for normal-sized books as it avoids the common deformities that come from storing books on their side. What many people do not realize is that books should not be simply stuffed or crammed into shelves in an attempt to fit in as many as possible, but that some care must also be taken in how they are actually arranged on the shelf.

Books should be placed in the center of a shelf, depthwise, for two reasons. Firstly, space in front of a row of books protects the books’ spines from damage from passersby or movable furniture such as office chairs. But even more important -- and certainly less widely known -- is the act of leaving space behind a row of books. This is done simply by not pushing them all the way back against the wall of the bookcase. This gap is crucial because it allows air to circulate behind the books. This circulation greatly helps prevent water condensation that can lead to the growth of mold and mildew -- the number one enemies of books.

Care should also be taken to ensure that books are not packed too tightly together on the shelf, and that they do not lean on one another at an angle. A straight up-and-down vertical placement in rows in which books may easily be slid out from between their neighbors (not pried out with a grunt and a wiggle) will place the least stress on the book over time. The opposite of the too-tight approach must also be avoided. Big gaps between books or between the books and the shelf wall causes books to lean against one another at an angle that warps the pages and spine, causing unattractive deformities. This can easily be avoided with the use of bookends or any other object heavy enough to keep the books aligned properly in vertical ranks.

For rare or valuable books, bookshelves with glass doors are the best solution to maintain a dust free exterior. Mylar sleeves, such as those used in public libraries, are a good choice for protecting valuable or collectible dust jackets. For basic shelving methods, a periodic dusting is recommended -- particularly to blow the dust from the top page edge of books, as this is where foxing occurs most often.

Humidity and Temperature Extremes are Bad for Books

Temperature fluctuations and extremes of humidity and aridity are dangerous to the life of books. Because they are comprised of a variety of organic materials, books are more susceptible to these conditions than many modern household items, and care should be taken to protect them from the local climate.

Placing bookcases against outside walls should be avoided if possible, as temperature differentials between inside and outside can lead to condensation in the air pocket behind the bookshelf. Humidity and condensation leads to mold growth. In contrast, books in an extremely dry environment have a different problem, as they can grow brittle and develop weak bindings once their glue breaks down.

Temperature control such as air-conditioning and heating can be both a blessing and a curse for a book collection. While necessary for the regulation of the cool, dry environment books prefer, care must be exercised in placing shelves too near the outlet vents for these devices. Direct airflow from a heat vent or AC blower can cause extreme temperature differentials between the front and back of the bookshelf, a situation ripe for condensation from either the quick cooling of air or the rapid movement of moist air over pages.

Finally, a serious book collector should do everything in their power to maintain a temperature of less than 70 degrees Fahrenheit (around 20 Celsius) and a humidity of less than 50% in the room in which their bookshelves stand. Dehumidifiers and humidifiers can be crucial in achieving these conditions in extreme climates, so long as the collector is careful in their placement of such devices in the library.

Let commonsense dictate the lengths to which you go in maintaining your collection -- more care and consideration is obviously better, but for those of us that do not live in an extreme climate or posses extremely valuable volumes, extra equipment or radical rearrangements of shelves is probably not strictly necessary.

Direct Light and Books

Ultraviolet radiation causes deterioration and fading of books and dust jackets, and must be minimized. Outside of extreme climates or outright neglect, direct light is probably the number one enemy of books. Direct sunlight is the worst offender, but the collector must be wary too of household fluorescent lighting. Normal household lighting, in the form of incandescent bulbs, is the least dangerous. Never display books where they will receive large amounts of direct sunlight.

Keep the library dark when possible. If need-be invest in heavy curtains or blinds to keep direct light off bookshelves, and turn off lights when no one is present. Such vigilance will pay off after many years if rare or valuable volumes are being kept in a collection.

Long-Term Storage of Books

Finally, many collectors do not have space on their bookcases for all the books they wish to keep, or find themselves traveling or moving and need solutions for long-term book storage. In addition to the basic temperature, humidity, and light guidelines above, some further things must be kept in mind.

Do not wrap books in plastic grocery bags, garbage can liners, or similar common household plastics. Such material degrades over time, producing gases that can damage paper. Special boxes are available for book storage, but common cardboard is fine if kept clean and dry. Keep your storage boxes several inches away from outside walls.

Keeping in mind the rules of temperature and humidity extremes, avoid placing books in basements, attics, garages, etc. where the unregulated climate can quickly damage them. Various pests also have better access to books when they are relegated to such outposts so, if you must place your books in the garage, be sure to keep the area around them clean and watch out for signs of rodent or insect activity.

With a little extra care and awareness, books properly stored in bookshelves and in a controlled climate will last a lifetime -- and beyond.