Conservation advice: books

Books are mechanical structures. If the covers break away at the hinges and the sewing gives way, the book can no longer function as a book. It is important, therefore, to observe some basic rules for careful handling of books.

Never lift or carry a book by one cover or by gripping the spine between thumb and forefinger. Always use two hands, particularly with heavy books.

Never dog-ear page corners or mark books with anything other than a soft pencil.

Avoid flagging pages. Flags can put too much pressure on a book's spine.

Don't use pressure-sensitive tape such as sticky tape, masking tape or adhesive cloth tapes. If covers or pages are loose, it is best to wrap the book and store it flat, or store it in a suitable box.

Don't use rubber bands to hold a book together. The rubber cannot only cut into the pages but can also stain as it perishes.

Wrap or box a book to protect it from dust, fading, insects, and even from water or smoke damage in case of fire.

Wear cotton gloves to help protect a book's binding, particularly if it is a fine leather binding which can be stained by hand-grease.

Don't use leather dressings on leather bindings - they don't help. The only cleaning that books need is regular dusting, particularly of the top edge, or 'head' of the book.

The dust-jackets of valuable books are themselves valuable. Store them safely away and make a replacement dust-jacket for the book out of acid-free paper.

When shelving books, don't shelve them too tightly. If necessary, use bookends of a size appropriate to the books to stop them slumping.

Some books are best stored flat on shelves. These include books taller than the shelf space, large ones with limp covers, very wide books or books with loose covers or whose body is falling apart. These should be wrapped or boxed for support. Books, particularly large or fragile books, should not be stacked one on top of another.

When removing a book from a shelf, don't pull it out by the top lip of the spine. This will eventually result in the upper spine tearing. Push the books on either side deeper into the shelf so that you can grip the book firmly enough to remove it.

Photocopying books can cause serious damage. Never force a book down on a photocopier. Fragile bindings and tight spines are most at risk. To photocopy safely, see documents in this series.

The Australian Institute for the Conservation of Cultural Material provides a directory of conservators in private practice. You can use the directory to find someone in your region with the expertise to provide qualified care of your memorabilia.