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The top 10 FAQs

  1. What are the best conditions at home to store books or documents?
  2. Where can I best store my documents?
  3. What’s the best way to consult an old book?
  4. How can I avoid damaging a book when taking it off the shelf?
  5. Will photocopying from a book damage it?
  6. Where can I learn how to treat leather and parchment book bindings?
  7. How can I repair rips in paper?
  8. Should my books be deacidified?
  9. What should I do with a book that’s mouldy or insect damaged?
  10. Where can I have my book restored and be given expert advice?

  1. What are the best conditions at home to store books or documents?
    The recommended climate for paper in libraries, archives and museums is a relatively constant temperature of about 18 °C and a relative humidity (RH) of between 50 and 55%. This ‘ideal’ climate is difficult to realise at home. What you can do is try to approach this climate, for example by using a humidifier to raise the humidity when the central heating is on (= dry air) and not setting the temperature higher than 21 °C. In summer, when there are high temperatures outside, we recommend keeping doors and windows closed as much as possible and to keep the curtains closed as well: then it will be cooler inside than out.
    Don’t hang artworks on paper on a damp wall, and don’t put a bookcase against a damp wall either. Don’t locate a bookcase/shelf near a heater, and don’t let direct sunlight shine on a bookcase, prints, drawings, maps, etc. It is also better not to spotlight any framed work on paper that is hanging on the wall. Both sunlight and artificial light contain UV rays and emit heat, both of which can damage paper.
  2. Where can I best store my documents?
    Always store your documents in non-PVC plastic bags. You should also use cardboard folders or boxes which are acid or lignin free. Only use specially designed materials to store your documents. Always remove paperclips and staples because they will eventually rust and damage the paper. When framing prints and drawings, always make sure that you use acid-free backing boards and passe-partouts.
  3. What’s the best way to consult an old book?
    Never use force to lay a book open if the book does not automatically open fully. In this case we recommend opening the book in a V-shape, supported on two (clean) rolled-up tea towels, for example. Fat, heavy tomes should be opened in the middle first and set down, and only then leafed through to the required page.
  4. How can I avoid damaging a book when taking it off the shelf?
    Never pull a book off the shelf by the top of the spine (headband). Slide it slightly to the front or push the books on either side of it slightly back so you can grasp the spine properly. As long as the bookshelf is not filled too full, the book required can be removed without causing damage.
  5. Will photocopying from a book damage it?
    The light from (modern) photocopy machines will not damage the paper when making single copies. It is, however, possible to damage the book itself if the photocopying is not done carefully. Whatever you do, never push an old book flat onto the glass plate! Luckily there are usually machines available where you can copy from the book in a V-shape rather than flat.
  6. Where can I learn how to treat leather and parchment book bindings?
    The conservation of book bindings is a treatment that can only be responsibly performed by specialists. Despite the best of intentions, severe damage to leather and parchment can be unwittingly caused if incorrect products are applied to your binding. Never use home cleaning fluids to remove spots and never treat the binding with wax or oils such as beeswax, shoe polish, teak oil or the like.
  7. How can I repair rips in paper?
    All self-adhesive tapes can cause problems – the glue will eventually result in all kinds of damage to the paper. Just as for leather and parchment book bindings, we recommend professional treatment by a specialist.
  8. Should my books be deacidified?
    If paper is too acidic and also contains lignin (wood-based paper), it will eventually turn yellow and become brittle, which means that rips and tears will occur. Eventually such paper becomes so brittle that it can no longer be handled. This problem is particularly evident in papers from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and often is visible first in ‘ordinary’ paperbacks or other cheap printed matter such as newspapers. The process of decay can be speeded up if the storage conditions are not good (see question 1). We recommend a deacidification treatment for acidic, lignin-rich paper. Deacidification is not usually necessary for books or documents from before 1800.
  9. What should I do with a book that’s mouldy or insect damaged?
    An attack of mould is the greatest threat for books that have become wet or damp. Wet books should thus always be dried as quickly as possible. If only a few books have been affected, then the best thing to do is open them out and put them near a fan heater; the room must also be well ventilated, for example by opening a window. With large numbers of wet books, the best thing is to freeze them as quickly as possible and to dry them later with the freeze-dry method – in such instances consult a reputable firm as quickly as possible. Books with art paper that has become wet will usually have suffered irreversible damage.
    Another type of biological damage, usually related to both climatological (see 1) and hygienic factors, is insect damage. There are specialist companies who have developed effective methods for tackling insects. The simplest emergency solution, for example for a single book, is to put it into a sealed plastic bag for about 14 days, together with (but not touching) a common or garden insecticide, for example a flea collar or a Vapona strip.
    A book from a jumble sale, cellar or attic should be checked carefully before putting it between your other books.
  10. Where can I have my book restored and be given expert advice?
    You should always contact a qualified book and paper restorer for responsible restoration of your book or document. You can find a qualified restorer by contacting the Restauratoren Register [Register of Restorers], Amsterdam (tel. 020-3054545) or de Belangen Vereniging Restauratoren Nederland (VeRes, the Dutch Association of Professional Conservators-Restorers), Amsterdam (tel. 020-6703328). You can also contact the National Library (KB, see address below) or the department of Advice and Research of the Netherlands Institute of Cultural Heritage (ICN), Amsterdam (tel. 020-3054545) for advice and information on conservation and about suppliers of products and services in the field of conservation.

This text has been compiled by:

Department of Conservation & Optical Techniques
National Library
Prins Willem-Alexanderhof 5
P.O. Box 90407
2509 LK The Hague
tel. 070-3140567
August 1998
(used by permission of the compilers)

  • The Register of Restorers can be found on http://www.icn.nl. It provides access via links to many other websites about conservation.
Last modified:14 March 2018 08.47 a.m.
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