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Preservation and Conservation: Caring for Collections

Preservation resources

Caring for Personal Collections

Caring For Your Treasures American Institute for Conservation  
How to Care For ... Canadian Conservation Institute

Book Collections

Basic Book Handling And Shelving

The manner in which books are handled and shelved directly affects their longevity.  In addition, neat and presentable shelves and cases reflect an attitude of care that can only encourage future users to treat the materials with respect.

Please Do ...

... Handle books with clean hands; oily or dirty fingerprints are often indelible.

... Support both covers when opening a book.

... Support the open cover board of a book when applying bookplates.

... Use caution when inserting packets of information into a book.  It is better to divide large amounts of materials (ex., related maps, photos, letters, etc.) and distribute it throughout the volume rather than risk breaking or cracking the binding by having too much material inserted in only one or two places. Better yet, put the book and loose extraneous materials into a custom-fitted protective box.

... Remove a book from the shelf by
... first pushing the books on either side of the desired volume back a little to expose and free the volume for easier removal,
... then with fingers grasping on the middle of the book boards cover, pull out gently.

... Adjust bookends to loosen books which are too tightly wedged, or place fingers firmly on top of text block and tip volume out.
... Readjust the bookends after removing a book from a shelf.

... Shelve books upright, or if they are too tall, shelve resting on the spine (NOT the fore-edge).

Please Do Not...

Do not remove a book from the shelf by pulling on its head cap, which causes spine tears.

Do not use rubber bands or metal paper clips. Rubber bands will crimp and could cut through the edges of paper.  Rubber bands also emit sulphur compounds which are harmful to papers.  Paper clips rust, crimp, and even tear pages.

Do not use Scotch-type or sticky adhesive type tapes anywhere on books. Contamination can occur on adjacent volumes due to the cold-flow properties of pressure-sensitive tapes.

Do not use Post-It Notes. This adhesive is just as bad as any pressure-sensitive tape.  It will leave a residue behind even when applied lightly or briefly.

Do not shelve too tightly. Books become difficult to remove and the tugging needed to extricate the volumes will result in broken headcaps and abrasion on the covers.

Do not shelve too loosely, so that books can fall over or slump; leaning causes stress and thus weakens bindings.

Do not shelve a book on its fore edge. The text block will pull itself out of the cover.  Heavy volumes or weak bindings will go first, but gravity will always win.  

Do not fold a book back on itself; this causes bindings to stress and eventually break.

Photographs and Albums

Care of Photographs NEDCC

Caring for Your Photograph Collection Library of Congress

Saving Wet Photographs American Institute for Conservation

Personal Books That Are Damaged



You have a few options to choose from, and the right one depends on what you want for the book -- do you want to continue to use and read the book?  Do you want to save it intact for your heirs, or potential sale to a collector? Can it be stabilized, boxed and put away (with little actual handling)?


To help inform your decision, determine if a book has significant value (monetary, historical, cultural, etc) other than its value to yourself (e.g., most bibles have only personal value).




Determining the value of books involves searching a variety of sources including auction catalogs, sales records, the number of holdings in libraries (to determine rarity), etc. It is an extensive process and only very knowledgeable people should be hired to do it. 


Two appraisers in Atlanta:.


Frank Walsh, Yesteryear Book Shop (404-436-7432), yesteryearbooks_at_bellsouth [dot] net


Clifford Graubart, Old New York Book Shop (770-393-2997) cgraubart_at_mindspring [dot] com


There are others of course, contact the Antiquarian Booksellers' Association of America (ABAA) to find members




Book Repair vs. Conservation


There is a considerable difference between book repair and book conservation.  Please be warned that there are individuals out there (even in Atlanta) who say they do restoration work, and whose efforts could be ultimately damaging.  Conservators do not try to make the book look new (as most restorers do); book conservators try to preserve as much of the original materials as possible, and stabilize the book using only the highest quality materials and very conservative (less invasive) techniques. 


Book repairers will not be as concerned with saving original materials like covers and end papers, but their costs should be less.  Be advised that any alterations you make to a book could reduce its value to a collector if you decide to sell the book.


Rebinding usually means the book is put into an entirely new cover and all the pages are reattached with a new binding. Obviously, this is a much more drastic alteration of the original book.


If you do not actually want to use a book regularly then consider having a custom-fit box made to protect it from light, dust and handling. The box will also protect the book from the invisible pollutants in our damaging urban environment.  This is the best alternative to getting a book conserved.


In any case, check references before you contract with someone to work on your book. Get an estimate first, though realize you will not get a firm quote without someone actually seeing the book to determine the extent of the work it needs.




Suggested starting places


--- Contact a recognized conservation center:




Atlanta Art Conservation Center (sponsored through the High Museum)


AACC specializes in painting, works of art on paper, and photograph conservation.




Southeast Region:


Etherington Conservation Services
6204 Corporate Park Drive
Browns Summit, NC 27214-9745
(800) 444-7534


ECS is the only public facility in the Southeast that focuses on book and paper conservation and high quality book repair work.


Professional conservators may also be contacted through our professional organization: AIC (American Institute for the Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works), 202-452-9545.

Preservation and Conservation

Conservation Centers

Atlanta Art Conservation Center

Etherington Conservation Serviceso 

CCAHA (Conservation Center for Art and Historic Artifacts)

NEDCC (Northeast Document Conservation Center)

Upper Midwest Conservation Association

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