Caring for Old Books and Print Media

Collections of old books, newspapers, and artwork are cool to have and look at. However, keeping them in good condition isn’t always the easiest thing on the planet. It’s also easy to go about it the wrong way. Below are some tips and tricks to keep your precious materials safe.

Things Not To Do

Don’t oil the covers of leather bound books. Oil darkens the leather, creates blotches where not applied properly, and gets onto the pages. Even after the books are shelved, oil bleeds through the spine and onto the pages.

Both books and print media do not do well in temperature extremes. High temperatures, high humidity, and highly concentrated pollutants in the air will damage them. Stay away from storage in attics and basements.

Direct sunlight has permanent damaging effects on any kind of print media. Sunlight fades inks, yellows pages, and dries out leather. Keep print media and books out of the sun.

Proper Shelving

Keep books in glass-front cabinets of glass or baked enamel away from sunlight. This will help keep away the dust. If they have to be kept in open or wood shelving, dust them regularly and make sure the wood is sealed properly.

Do not overcrowd books on shelves. Good air flow is essential. Keep like-sized books together. This will prevent warping of taller books. Use bookends to keep books upright. Any book over 18 inches tall should be laid flat instead of stored upright.

When removing from shelves, nudge books to either side and grasp the chosen volume in the middle of the spine. Tipping the books out of the shelf by the top of the spine causes damage.

Boxes, Covers, and Folders

Archival boxes are a good option for keeping frailer books and print media safe. They protect against normal wear and tear and dust. The boxes cost under $10 each. They should be made of either 100% cotton rag or chemically purified wood pulp.

Mylar or polyester book covers are acid-free and provide stability as well as protection.

For print media, acid-free folders, alkaline mats, or polyester film folders are good options for protection. All folders should be larger than the piece inside.


Ultimately, because it is important to keep the temperature between 65 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit (18.3 and 21.2 degrees Celsius) and humidity between 44 and 55%, storing in-home is not always the best option. The best place to store these is a climate controlled self-storage unit. The temperature and humidity can be kept relatively constant easily.

As you can see, keeping older books and print media in good condition isn’t always easy. However, your efforts can easily pay off. Some of what you keep could be worth a lot of money someday.

Image by Randy Son of Robert and licensed through Creative Commons.

Paul Benjamin is a District Manager at EZ Storage, a storage rental company that offers temporary and long term storage units near Ross Township, PA.