Protecting Books

InsureMyStuff has 30 years experience in insuring books. We provide all risks, worldwide fine art insurance. But there are some things no policies can protect against – notably wear and tear, and gradual deterioration. Here are our tips to help you avoid the disappointment of damage to your book collection.

Books, Maps & Manuscripts

5 Tips to protect your valuable books

1. Make sure the environment is correct – consider humidity, temperature and direct light

2. Store the books appropriately - for most books this is upright in shelves but larger items should be laid flat

3. Make sure shelves and packing materials are acid free

4. Remove and dust books periodically - in small sections at a time

5. If you run out of room at home, use storage facilities, but apply the same considerations to storage facilities as you would when keeping your books at home

Firstly make sure the environment is right - books should be kept in humidity between 45 and 60 per cent. Keep books out of direct sunlight, because the light may fade colour and the heat can affect the glue in the bindings and dry the pages making them prone to tearing.

Book collections, by their nature, often contain hundreds of items, making storage a very important consideration. Most books are kept on shelves. Do consider that the books are in contact with the shelves and the shelves should therefore be acid free – some woods, wood treatments and cleaning products may have acid natures harmful to your books. If you are cleaning or protecting the shelves, investigate the best products. Some experts recommend water-based aliphatic urethane or a two-coat epoxy finish.

Books should be periodically removed from the shelves so that both the books and the shelves can be carefully dusted or cleaned and the books replaced. Remove 5-10 books at a time, cleaning them and the shelf area exposed and replace them before removing the next 5-10 books. Build up of dust is unsightly and regular removal and dusting means that any damage or the early signs of deteriation is more likely to be noticed and corrected. Remember too that bookworm like books that aren’t moved or opened.

Although placing books on shelves just seems to be a most natural thing to do, some consideration into best practice is important. Books should be placed next to other books of similar size so as to support each other. Unsupported books can warp and the spine can become curved and damaged. Very large books and folios should be placed flat to avoid this. Be careful also not to pack books too tightly.

If you run out of room and decide to use storage facilities, this is usually fine with insurers,but do check if you are not sure. At most storage facilities security is good, conditions are clean and shelves can be bought in.  As at home do consider the environment and make sure there are no sprinkler systems. If you are stacking the books or leaving them in boxes, make sure they are kept at least 4 inches off the floor. Some insurance policies will have a ‘stillage’ warranty, excluding claims made for water and flood damage for items not raised away from the ground.

Do not stack too many books on top of each other as this will compress the spines and do not stack cardboard boxes with books in them on top of each other as they too can compress. Hard case storage boxes are often a better solution for their rigidity and resistance to water. Make sure with all your storage materials, paper, protection and boxes that they are acid free.

If your books do get damaged and need to be repaired, good insurance companies will be able to direct you to the best restorers. In the coming weeks we will publish a question and answers article with one of our fine book restorers.

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