Caring for Your Library (shelving & cleaning)

This blog post has been a long time in the making! I consulted several different articles, my bookbinding teacher, and the archival classes that I took during my MLIS degree. It’s not a strict guide, but I’d like to think it’s a good guide and has some decent advice and a lot of good “rules of thumb”.  Even I don’t live up to all the advice I give; if I showed you a picture of my bookcases some of them live up to the guidelines here and some of them don’t! You can really see which books are precious to me and which are not, but I am hoping to change it and get everything up to these standards here soon.

So, without further ado, here are some tips to help maintain your personal library!


1. Temperature of the room

You might not have a lot of say over the temperature of your room, or even where you get to store you books in your house! But there a few tings you can do in your room to help your books – try to keep the space clean (dust often!), and try to keep it relatively dry and cool (room temperature). If you’re in a very hot and humid climate, consider keeping the room you store your books in cool. A good rule of thumb is to keep your book room around 21oC (70oF).

Why is temperature and humidity important? Too warm a room and too humid a room can cause problems for the book such as: degradation of paper, adhesives, and mold growth. Too cold and not enough humidity can cause problems such as: adhesive problems, brittle paper, cloth, and leather. If the temperature fluctuates greatly and quickly it can cause chemical reactions which will also degrade the book structure, and all of the above can result in distortion.

2. Placement of the shelves

If you have a window in your room put your bookshelves on a side where the window isn’t going to let light shine directly on them. If you can’t help that, then try to keep the curtains closed whenever you’re not in the room to avoid sun shining directly on your books. You don’t want them to fade! Not only does the sun cause fading but it can speed up the deterioration of the paper. Yikes!


Also, make sure that you keep your shelves away from radiators, vents, and pipes. Don’t put your bookshelves along the exterior walls if you can help it! Try to place them on interior walls. The exterior walls may fluctuate more in temperature and humidity. And when it comes to putting books on the shelves — books should not touch walls! Find bookshelves that are wide enough that you can keep at least three inches between the wall and your books and at least 1-2 inches away from the front edge of the shelf. Lastly, avoid storing books in closed cabinets, these have a lack of air circulation and books need to breathe.

Shelving books:

As mentioned you want to keep the books 3 inches from the wall, and about 1-2 inches away from the edge. This protects from any potential overhead water leaks on either side of your bookcase.


Also try to keep similar sized books together – this supports the covers maximally on either side, and they won’t distort due to lack of support. Keep the books that are stood upright straight – don’t let them lean (again you want to avoid distorting them)!

same size books

They should be shelved firmly together to give each other support, but not so tightly that they cause distortion. Keeping them not tightly pressed will also keep them from cracking, and you’ll be able to get them out easier. Also try to rotate paperbacks every once in a while so the one at the end is sometimes in the middle!

Store large books horizontally, make sure that books don’t overhang the ones below them. Stack them largest to smallest.

Over-sized books should be stored flat on shelves deep enough to accommodate their width (you don’t want them sticking out of the shelf). Any book that is taller than 15 cm and is thicker than what one might consider medium thickness should be laid flat, otherwise the textblock of the book will pull away from the spine causing the joints to rip and the book to fall out of it’s case. When you store books flat, makes sure that the biggest and thickest book is at the bottom. Stack the books that none of them overhang the one below them (again you want to keep them supported).


One more note, if you have leather books — don’t store leather books beside cloth or paper books! You can store cloth and paper books next to each other, but the leather’s oils will stain the cloth and paper books if they are pressed side by side.

Finally, I’ll just give you a snapshot of a good shelf versus a bad shelf! The good shelf provides support for the books; the bad shelf, as you can see, the books are not equally supported at all!


Cleaning & Caring:

1. Dusting

It’s important to regularly dust your books – to prevent mold spores and mildew from lingering. Thankfully it’s rather simple task. Simply hold the book closed and wipe the covers and the edges with a plain soft cloth. Check out my how-to below!

To dust, start with the top of the book:

  • Hold the book upright, with one hand around the spine. Keep the leaves firmly together so dust doesn’t fall in between the pages.
  • Using the other hand, wipe or brush the head of the book from the back of the book toward the front. You don’t want to push the dust into the end-cap.
  • Turn the book over and wipe or brush from the back toward the front the bottom of the book.
  • Wipe the fore-edge, the front board, the back board, and the spine.

You can also vacuum books with a soft brush attachment to remove loose dust.

2. Removing a book from the shelf

Another important tip to keep your books in good condition is to remove them properly from the shelves. When you go to remove the book from your shelf, don’t pull at the top of the book’s spine, it will break and detach the head. Instead gently push back the books on either side and grab the book you want at the middle of the spine and pull out towards you. This is also why you don’t want your books tightly packed together, you want room to slide them here or there a little.

Some last little maintenance tips:

  1. Please don’t repair damaged covers or paper with tape! It will do the book no good if you want it to last forever. It often causes more damage over time.
  2. Don’t use sticky notes, paper clips, or rubber bands on your books. Paper clips will eventually rust and rubber bands when they get old can tear the page or stick to the book.
  3. Try using a paper bookmark that is flat (no dog-earring your pages!), points if your bookmark is acid-free paper (something acidic, like newspaper, will discolor the pages of your book)!

In this blog I was also going to include how to properly open a new book but as it’s getting lengthy I’ll save that for my next post! Hopefully you’ve found this one helpful and feel inspired to make sure your library is well cared for. Books are the best of friends and with the right love, even cheaply made paperbacks can have a good life!

Until next time,




Library of Congress: Care, Handling and Storage of Books

NYPL: Dos and Don’ts for Taking Care of Your Personal Books at Home

NEDCC: Cleaning Books and Shelves







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