At Home with Books : How Booklovers Live with & Care for Their Libraries by Estelle Ellis & Caroline Seebohm

This is one book that I have been coveting for ever since knowing of its existence a couple of years ago. But with prices going at £30 for a used copy on Amazon or USD53 on The Book Depository, I guess I will have to carry on being contented with just coveting, for the moment.
So, you can imagine my pleasant surprise when I just realised recently that I do have an essay from the book included among the treasury of stories and essays in my copy of A Passion for Books by Harold Rabinowitz & Rob Kaplan, which has mostly been languishing on the shelves collecting dust until now. Again, this serves as a reminder to seriously take a good look at my TBR stacks before thinking of going after new prey. :p

The said essay is the authors’ summary of the current state of book care with reference to William Blades’s 1880 comprehensive The Enemies of Books. This classic, though filled with stern admonitions, is as relevant today as it was a century ago. Blades’s work speaks to those who are building or restoring a library, starting a special collection, or those simply interested in preserving the books they read in their youth for their children and grandchildren. Just as people often think to create a protected environment for paintings or photographs, so should they for their books.

1. Fire

There are many of the forces of Nature which tend to injure books; but among them all not one has been half as destructive as fire.


Blades calculates that not only is fire the most destructive of all enemies of books, but that only one-thousandth of the books that once existed still exist, thanks to what he calls the “fire-king”.

Good housekeeping, according to the National Fire Protection Association, is the number one way to prevent a fire. As in a forest deprived of rain, overly dry conditions are conducive to fire. Climate control through central air-conditioning can guard against the drying and dust-promoting nature of heat. Some collectors use fire-proof walls or containers and choose nonflammable or fire retardant material for library curtains.

Smoking is as bad for books as it is for people. Not only does it increase the chances of fire because of dropped ash or fallen match, but smoke can work its way into pages of books and leave a smell behind. If you smoke, or have guests who do, be especially alert when you’re in the library.

After studying the effects of a serious fire that caused considerable damage due to heat, Don Etherington, former conservator of the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, found that books that had been oiled resisted heat better than those that have not been treated. The smaller the book, the greater the damage. Leather bindings and labels, including those in glass-fronted cases, frizzled or looked bubbled, particularly those on upper shelves where heat was most intense. Rapid decrease in humidity may be the reason for this. Leather bindings should be put on lower shelves even in glass-fronted cases where they are, in general, better protected. Polyester dust jackets are also a good book saver.

If fire or smoke does damage to your books, there are materials that can help you repair them. Jane Greenfield, author of The Care of Books, finds that Pink Pearl erasers work better than any other material for removing scorch marks. Damp sponges work best on smooth cloth but do not work well on paper. Extra-fine steel wool will take soot off leather bindings and leave them intact. However, she says, “Beware of chemical sponges which leave residual film. To get rid of any lingering smell after a fire, thoroughly air books out on a slightly breezy day. Stand books, fanned out, on a table in the shade, but do not leave them overnight. Some damage restoration firms can also provide equipment to dissipate residual odor.” To find such a firm in your area, check the Yellow Pages under “Fire and Water Damage Restoration.”


Now, wasn’t that interesting? Especially the part about the Yellow Pages, hahah. 🙂 There are altogether 7 “enemies of books” listed in the essay, of which the first we have already read about here. I will be sharing the rest in the weeks to come, as I feel this sort of information should come in handy for every book lover and bibliophile out there. Meantime, maybe it’s not be such a bad idea to take a look at just how well “fire-proofed” our beloved books are in their current state, eh? 😉


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