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

Continuing on with the second element listed as one of The Enemies of Books by William Blade :

2. Water

Next to Fire, we must rank Water in its two forms, liquid and vapour, as the greatest destroyer of books.


Aside from flooding through natural disaster or otherwise, water vapor or general dampness can lead to mold and disfigured books. As Blades describes it, “Outside it fosters the growth of a white mould or fungus which vegetates upon the edges of the leaves, upon the sides, and in the joints of the binding.”

Doris Hamburg, in Caring for Your Collections, notes the warning signs of dampness and methods of treatment. A musty smell and the appearance of fuzzy spores are the tip-offs. If mold develops, as it is prone  to do in seaside houses or in basements, remove the affected books and place them in a dry area. Then, on a sunny day, take the books outside and lightly brush the mold with a soft camel-hair brush to remove the spores. Dabbing, but not rubbing, with a kneaded eraser will show whether the material is too delicate to be brushed. If so, or if in doubt, bring the books to a professional conservator.

Mold develops because of poor air circulation and too much humidity. So if you’re keeping books in glass-fronted bookcases, make sure that you open them periodically to provide essential ventilation. Mold grows at 70 degrees Fahrenheit and 65 percent relative humidity in stagnant air. It can be prevented or controlled by maintaining a library temperature below 70 degrees Fahrenheit and by allowing relative humidity to climb no higher than 60 percent, preferably keeping it closer to 50 percent. Air-conditioning and fans can be used for climate control. Dehumidifiers help through warmer seasons. Humidifiers should be used in winter when a well-heated library also means too little humidity, which can dry out books and increase the risk of fire.

If you live in a house that tends to flood, keep your bookshelves at least twelve inches from the floor. COllector Timothy Mawson recalls the morning he came into his New York shop after such in-house flooding. “A water pipe broke in the men’s room above and totally flooded everything. We used waxed paper between the pages of the books so they would not stick together and worked at it for nearly forty-eight hours, saving an enormous number of books.”

If your books get wet, those that are not absolutely saturated can be dried out by fan. Stand the books on several layers of paper towels or unprinted newspaper (available at art supply stores) and let one or two fans blow on them if possible; use a piece of Styrofoam under the open book for support. Books can also be dried by placing paper towels or unprinted newspapers within the book, one every fifty pages or so. (Newspaper is a good absorber, but because of its acidic content it should not be left inside a book for too long.) The towels and/or newspapers should be changed often – a time consuming operation. When books are almost dry (slightly cool to the cheek), close them and finish the drying  under light weights. Softcover books can be dried this way or hung on a clothesline. (If your collection is seriously damaged by water, remind your insurance company that the longer wet books sit and mold forms, the higher the cost of restoration; this may hasten an appraisal.)

For books with coated paper, such as most illustrated books, freeze or vacuum drying is recommended. (This paper tends to stick together when wet and then dried, by the usual method.) Wrap your books in freezer paper and pack them tightly in plastic milk crates. While taking books to a rapid-freezing facility is best, a home freezer can be used. After the books are frozen, they should be kept at – 15 to 20 degrees Fahrenheit until a vacuum-drying facility can take them to be dried. In vacuum drying, water goes straight from ice to vapor.)


I wonder if these methods of treatment can also be applied to treat the problem of yellow spots appearing on the pages of books? Are the yellow spots a result of dampness or something? For me, I think this is the biggest “enemy” to my books. Anyone has any tried and tested methods of prevention/ restoration?

And I really should have posted the following excerpt together with last Friday’s Feature on the enemy “Fire” instead of here, but I find it too good to not share it all the same.

There are probably false impressions abroad as to the susceptibility of literature to the destruction by fire. Books are not good fuel, as fortunately, many a household maid has found, when among other frantic efforts and failures in fire-lighting, she has reasoned from the false data of inflammability of a piece of paper. In the days when heretic books were burned, it was necessary to place them on large wooden stages, and after all the pains taken to demolish them, considerable readable masses were sometimes found in the embers; whence it was supposed that the devil, conversant in fire and its effects, gave them his special protection.
In the end, it was found easier and cheaper to burn the heretics themselves than their books.

John Hill Burton, The Book-Hunter (1862)



One thought on “Friday Feature : On How to Care for Books (#2)

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