So you have a book collection…

… but how well do you care for it?


Too loose (Courtesy: OCAL via

In a recent post, I reviewed (if you could call it a review) Leslie Geddes-Brown’s book titled Books do furnish a room. That book focused on the aesthetics of having a book collection, but what about how best to ensure its longevity? The April 2010 edition of goodreading includes an article by Darren Baguley on how to protect your book collection, which made me think a bit about my own book collection management. As a librarian/archivist (albeit retired), I am familiar with the issues of caring for books and paper but do I really practise what I have preached over the years? Hmmm … well, not completely.

So, what should we do?

  • Firstly, we should look out for the three enemies of paper: light, dust/pests, moisture level. Paper does not like too much light and it shouldn’t be too dry or too humid. We all know about pests, of course, but how often do you dust your books and check for bugs?
  • Secondly, what do you store your books on/in? Particle board bookcases, for example, can off-gas. Books need air circulation so should not be pushed to the  back of the shelf. Oh dear … what if you want (need) to double shelve!
  • Thirdly, how do you “stack” or “place” your books? Generally they should be stored upright but not too tightly nor too loosely. Oversize books are best laid flat because their spines cannot support them well, but they should not be stacked more than three high.

This is pretty general. If you want to know more, check:

  • The Northeast Documentation Center here
  • The Library of Congress here
  • The State Library of Victoria on packing and storing books here
  • The Institute of Conservation here

Storage, though, is only one issue. Is your collection insured? Do you know what you have? A simple spreadsheet will work well. However, I use LibraryThing: not only can I maintain an online record of my holdings – which I can mostly create by simply entering the ISBN – but I can export back to myself a csv file of my data so that if LibraryThing ever disappears I still have my data. Not all online services offer (or did when I chose LibraryThing) this functionality.

And then of course, can you find what you have? But I think I’ll leave it here. After all, you can lead a horse to water, but …

17 thoughts on “So you have a book collection…

  1. *chuckle* You wrote this just for me, didn’t you Sue?
    I break all these rules, of course, but only with the paperbacks on Mt. TBR, not with my first editions. (In fact, just today, I changed their camphor pack.)
    I once heard Kaye Craddock talk about caring for books at Writers at Como (or the Convent, I forget) and one of the things she also said was that it’s important to actually take the books out every now and again and open them up so that their spines don’t get stiff. This can be a very pleasant way to while away a couple of hours on a gloomy day LOL.
    There’s also how you care for them while reading too. I try very hard to keep my books pristine, but those big baggy novels are awfully hard to handle without creasing the spine!

    • Of course I didn’t write it for you! I assumed you would have it all under control! I was going to talk about things like having different practices for different value books but, see, you knew all that already. As for keeping books pristine. I reckon that’s pretty hard with paperbacks isn’t it.

  2. I’m super geeky about tending to my books. I spent a lot of time helping out in my school libraries growing up and had the lessons you mention above imprinted on me at a young age and to violate any of them seems unthinkable now. My incredibily ordered and disciplined grandmother was the one who encouraged me to start keeping records on my collection (I have a beautifully-formatted excel sheet) and also, at the age of 12, to start writing index cards with notes on the books I had read. The index cards eventually turned to hard-bound journals and then blogging was added.

    My other domestic skills might be lacking at times, but my caring for my little library always takes priority.

    • Good for you Claire. I wish I had started keeping index cards at 12. I now have a Filemaker Pro database as well as LibraryThing – but not from that young age. How nice to have such a record!

  3. * hysterical rolling on the floor*!@
    Me, having it all under control? If only! It’s not just my collection, there’s The Spouse’s too – and he’s worse than I am. The only solution I can think of is to turn the living room into a proper library with stacks or even a compactus…

    • Oh dear, you’ve let me down badly now Lisa!! LOL. I think you have more of yours in LibraryThing than I do though don’t you? I thought that said something! Clearly I’ve been tricked! What is it about we librarians?

  4. *blush*
    I don’t know how many books we’ve got. I’ve started adding his to LT but have barely scratched the surface. I thought we might start to rationalise things a bit when he took some books to the Monash Student Co-op, but of course he came home with more than he left with…
    We’re really quite compatible *grin*

    • LOL Lisa … I find it really hard to pass my books on … but I do have a little handful waiting now to go to some deserving cause.

      I really must get back to putting more of mine in. I have all the poetry, drama, art books, reference books, and various other odds and ends to put in yet. So much to do, so little time…

  5. I know I should take better care of my books by dusting them regulary but I don’t dust anything else in the house unless under duress so the books don’t get dusted either. None of my books are housed in direct sunlight and they all live on real wood shelves so I’ve got that going for me. Trying to control humidity in a regular house in Minnesota is nearly impossible though we do have a dehumidifier that runs nearly all summer. I’ve got nearly all my books cataloged at LibraryThing and we have an insurance policy rider should the unthinkable ever happen. So while not perfect, I make some effort 🙂

    • LOL Stefanie. I’m rather with you on the dust. When I was a teen and had one bookcase I did dust about once a year but now it’s rare and never taking every book out to dust properly. I usually think dust is best left where it is! Fortunately though we live in a dry climate – a bit too dry but overall I think that’s a bit easier for books. I still have more books to put on LibraryThing but I have a goodly start there. Must do more…

  6. I have a database on my palm, the problem is my palm’s obsolete, I only use it now for keeping the databases on because it’s too much work to redo them.

    As for care, they go on the shelf and that’s about it. I do try though not to pack them too tightly, then again I also like to have them pushed to the back of the shelf.

    Ah well, I only read paperbacks anyway, so their longevity is probably doubtful in any event. Interesting topic. I did recognise this comment of Lisa’s:

    “I try very hard to keep my books pristine, but those big baggy novels are awfully hard to handle without creasing the spine!”

    I could say much the same myself.

    Oh, and I don’t insure them. Insurance tends not to respond well to lots of low value items I’ve found, a pain for my CDs too that one.

  7. Max: Yes, I mainly read paperbacks too not only because they are cheaper but because they are lighter and easy to carry. Re insurance. We also keep a database of our CDs. I have never had to test the insurance issue but I’m hoping that if we lost the lot in, say, a fire we would get some lump some for replacement. Have you had other experience?

    Tom: Glad to be of help … as I said it’s one of the main things that led me to LibraryThing when I was looking at the various options. I’m sure you’ve found it now, but if you haven’t let me know.

  8. The portability is a big factor for me. Also storage though, I just don’t have physical space for hardbacks, when I add to that the fact that I can’t read them when travelling or pop them in a pocket they’re just not a format I’m into.

    Though I’m even less fond of trade paperbacks, hardback size and therefore with all the disadvantages but none of the durability advantages.

    I have a database of CDs too, and DVDs for that matter. No particular bad experiences, I just recall last time we were getting insurance we found the exclusions for the policies we looked at all seemed to make it less useful than it could be.

    That said, years ago I got burgled and lost everything I owned (literally, even the clothes were cleared out). I was broke at the time and uninsured, a lump sum payment would have made the next few months considerably less painful than they were.

    • Burgled and lost everything? How horrendous. The worse theft I’ve experienced has been (twice) having my purse stolen from my handbag (with my camera also going on one of those occasions). I must check the small print on our insurance re the CDs etc, though I think my husband has looked into it, and felt it was worthwhile. We’ve done the DVDs too.

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