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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 Care, Handling, And Shelving

Proper care, handling, and shelving affects the positive longevity of books. Organized shelves and cases reflect an attitude of care and encourages respect toward the material.

Handle books with clean, dry hands. Oily or dirty fingerprints may be indelible.

Support both covers when opening a book.

Use caution when adding material to a book. Divide large amounts such as related maps, photos, letters, and distribute throughout the volume. Do not risk breaking or cracking the binding by having too much material in one or two places. Consider putting the book and loose materials into a protective box.

Remove a book from the shelf by first pushing back the books on either side of the desired volume to expose the spine and grasping in the middle of the covers.

Adjust bookends to loosen volumes which are tightly shelved, then readjust the bookends after removing a book from the shelf.

Shelve books upright. If they are too tall, shelve them resting on the spine, not the fore-edge.


Avoid removing a book from the shelf by pulling on the head cap and tearing the spine.

Rubber bands or metal paper clips crimp or cut through the paper edges. Rubber bands also emit sulfur compounds harmful to paper. Paper clips also rust over time. It is best not to use either one.

Pressure-sensitive, adhesive tapes on books cause cross-contamination on adjacent volumes due to the acidic properties of tape.

The adhesive on sticky notes will leave a stain residue on paper, even when applied lightly or briefly.

Shelving books too tightly makes it difficult to remove them. The pressure needed to extricate the volumes will result in broken head caps, spines, and abrasion of the covers.

Shelving books too loosely may cause them to fall over, slump, or lean, stressing and weakening the bindings.

Shelving a book on its fore-edge may cause the text block to separate from the cover. Heavy volumes or weak bindings are most vulnerable, and gravity always wins.  

Avoid folding a book back on itself, causing the binding 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

Repairing Damaged Personal Items


Making the correct treatment choice for a personal collection item depends upon how an item will be used. Do you want to continue to read the book? Do you want to save it intact for your heirs or potentially sell to a collector? Can it be stabilized, boxed, and stored with minimal handling?

Determining Value
To help inform the best decision, determine whether an item has significant value (monetary, historical, cultural, sentimental). Determining value  involves searching a variety of sources such as auction catalogs, sales records, and library holdings to determine rarity. It is an extensive process and may be worth the cost of hiring a professional appraiser. Contact the Antiquarian Booksellers' Association of America (ABAA) to find members in your area who are appraisers.

Restoration vs Conservation
There is a considerable difference between restoration and conservation. Conservators stabilize an item using the highest quality materials and very conservative, less invasive techniques. They preserve items as they currently are with as much of the original materials as possible. In contrast, a restorer will work to make an item appear new again, often using very invasive techniques. Please be aware of individuals claiming to do restoration work and whose efforts could be damaging to collections. Restorers may not be as concerned with saving original materials like covers and end papers, but their costs could be less. Be advised that any alterations made to an item could reduce its value to a collector if the item is sold.

Rebinding a book usually means creating an entirely new cover and reattaching all the pages to the new binding. Obviously, this would be a drastic alteration of the original book. If you do not actually want to use a book regularly, consider creating a custom-made box to protect it from light, dust, and unnecessary handling. A box will protect the book, and it is the best alternative to having a book conserved.

Check the professional references of anyone contracted to conserve or repair an item. A firm cost estimate should be provided after the contractor reviews the physical item and determines the extent of the work needed.

Contact a recognized conservator, regional conservation center, or the American Institute for Conservation (AIC),
American Institute for the Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works 202-452-9545.

Etherington Conservation Services
ECS is the regional conservation center in the Southeast focusing on high-quality book and paper conservation.

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





Preservation and Conservation

Conservation Centers

Etherington Conservation Serviceso 

CCAHA (Conservation Center for Art and Historic Artifacts)

NEDCC (Northeast Document Conservation Center)

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