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News Attics and Basements and Closets, Oh My! Part 4: Library Collections

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While those of us in the conservation department are working from home, we are finding comfort in our family heirlooms and treasures—many of which require our attention. Like so many around the country, we are finally taking the time to clean out our closets, sort through our attics, and look through our family albums. While we all turn to our family treasures for comfort during these trying times, the conservation department would like to share tips on ways to care for your personal collections.

Each week a different student from the Winterthur/University of Delaware Program in Art Conservation will address ways to care for the collections in your cupboards. Last week’s post focused on works on paper. This week’s post looks at ways to take care of your personal library collections and was written by Jess Ortegon, a first-year LACE (Library and Archives Conservation Education) Fellow. 

​Our books at home come in a wide variety of sizes and binding styles, but all have the same need for proper storage and care. (Image courtesy of Jess Ortegon.)


In our previous post we discussed some preventive measures you can take at home to care for works on paper. Many of us also have another valuable paper-based object that often finds its place on the coffee table: the book. Books have been with many of us for all our lives, from cardboard baby books to thick novels we curl up with at home. But even our books need some preventive care now and then, especially those favorites that have their covers falling off and one-too-many scribbles in the margins. 

Books that many of us own at home come in a wide variety: paperback, hardcover, leather-bound, or spiral-bound to name just a few. Having all different kinds of books can make caring for a collection seem daunting, but there are three preventive measures you can take to care for all kinds of books: handling, storage, and cleaning. Here are a few tips for each:

Bad handling: Books should be handled carefully, and not taken off a shelf by their edges. (Image courtesy of Jess Ortegon.)


  • Before handling your books, always wash your hands (which you’ll hear often for preventive collections care!). Doing so will prevent oils, grime, or food residues from getting onto your book.
  • When taking a book from the shelf, resist the temptation to pull it from the top. Push in the books on either side of it and then hold the book by its spine to pull it out. This will prevent tears on the spine, or crushing the bottom of the spine as a book is tilted out (this goes for paperbacks too!).
  • Use bookmarks, paper scraps, or even ribbons to mark your place. Do not use paper clips, sticky notes, or folded page corners, as these can all cause damage from tears to leaving adhesive residue.
  • If you write in your books, use a pencil. Pens, highlighters, and markers will leave more permanent damages like smudges or bleeding.

Good handling: Always push in books on either side before taking the one you want from the shelf. (Image courtesy of Jess Ortegon.)


  • When storing your books, you can have them either upright or lying down. For oversized and/or heavy books, you can lay them down on your shelf to prevent distortions that could occur if the books are leaning against one another diagonally. Bookends can also be used to support books in an upright position.
  • Store your books away from direct sunlight, which can fade or discolor spines and dust jackets.
  • Avoid storing books in (acidic) cardboard boxes. Shelves, archival boxes, or even plastic tubs will provide a more stable environment for long-term storage.


  • Regular dusting of your books is the best method of cleaning. Use a cloth or duster to dust off your books while they are on the shelf. Make sure to clean your shelf every once in a while too!

Our books bring us comfort and joy in many ways, whether we’re starting a new novel or rereading old favorites. So, as you go through your books to dust and rearrange them, take a moment to remember all of the fond stories that kept you reading through the day, and how you can continue to maintain these treasured collections.

We hope you've enjoyed this entry in our new series focused on caring for your family heirlooms. This series will continue throughout the summer and cover a variety of items and materials. The next post will shift focus from paper-based materials to preventive conservation and integrated pest management. If you have any comments on the series thus far, including materials you’d like to see covered in future posts, please email us at

You are in our hearts and minds as collectively we focus on saving lives. We hope you and your loved ones are safe and healthy. When we emerge from this global crisis we must and will rely on art and culture, preserved for today and for future generations, to foster joy, well-being and hope. We encourage you to visit our web site for regular updates on our department of art conservation and news coverage of our treasured students and alumni at home and abroad.

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This week’s post focuses on caring for the wide variety of books in our personal libraries, from cardboard baby books and paperbacks to hardcover novels.

​This week’s post focuses on caring for the wide variety of books in our personal libraries, from cardboard baby books and paperbacks to hardcover novels.

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Attics and Basements and Closets, Oh My! Part 4: Library Collections
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Attics and Basements and Closets, Oh My! Part 4: Library Collections
  • The Department of Art Conservation
  • 303 Old College
  • University of Delaware
  • Newark, DE 19716, USA
  • Phone: 302-831-3489