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Collecting and Managing Your Personal and Family Records: Books

Rare and Distinctive Collections


Classroom: Norlin N345

Reading Room: Norlin M350B

Image credit: University of Colorado Boulder Libraries' Collections of Distinction
Photograph of colorful books on a shelf

Many of our personal and family collections include rare, old, and well-loved published books or other bound records. Though books may seem like simple paper objects, they are really composed of a variety of diverse materials - cloth, leather, thread, board, glue, and paste - all of which may have unique preservation concerns. At the same time, books are often the most financially valuable items in archival collections, and it may be difficult to learn to navigate things like insurance, appraisal, and the rare books trade. See the resources below to get started. 

Preservation and care

Environmental conditions
  • Choose a storage location with the most stable temperature and humidity. A good target is 65-70 degrees Fahrenheit and humidity below 50%
  • Avoid storing books in spaces prone to moisture and temperature fluctuations, like attics, basements, and outer walls
  • Use blinds and curtains, and store materials in opaque containers to reduce fading from light exposure
  • Dust and vaccuum regularly to avoid pests
Shelving and storage
  • Avoid storing items near or below heat sources and water sources, and store materials at least four inches off the flour to reduce damage from floods
  • Shelve books vertically, upright and firmly supported by neighboring books or bookends
  • Large, oversized books can be laid horizontally, in stacks of no more than two or three
Handling and use
  • Handle books with clean hands. Lint-free cotton and nitrile gloves are only necessary for photographs, they are not recommended for brittle paper
  • Try to open books cradled in your hands, lap, or other cradle. Avoid opening a book flat on a table, to prevent spine damage
  • Use only paper bookmarks, to avoid stains or other damage
Cleaning and repair
  • Books can be dusted with a lint-free cloth or soft brush, or cleaned with a vacuum on a very low setting
  • Using oil on leather books is not recommended, as it can leave lasting stains
  • Common household tapes and glues are not recommended to repair book pages or covers
  • See additional resources below for more specific recommendations on mold or water damage

This content adapted from "Caring for Your Treasures: How to Protect Your Books," American Institute for Conservation.

Remember that books are meant to be enjoyed. Though excessive wear, margin notes, or pressed flowers may not be recommended by preservation professions, they can become important momentos of your own personal and family history. 

Suggested resources

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