Taking Care of Library Books

Some tips on how to take care of your library books.

To librarians, it's a too familiar scenario. A patron returns a book that left the building in good condition but now is damp, moldy, torn, marked up or otherwise damaged. A disappointment to both librarian and patron who is now responsible for the book's repair or replacement. Too bad. With proper care, books last a long time so multiple patrons may enjoy them. Without it, they deteriorate quickly and become an unwelcome donation to the Friends of the Library sale.

Damage to books usually results from careless handling or improper storage so here are some suggestions for avoiding the most common book disasters. Some seem too obvious to need stating, but we've seen too many books damaged by carelessness or ignorance that spreading the word seems worth doing.

Use bookmarks. Never dog-ear a library book to mark your place. Paper clips, rubber bands, locks of hair, rubber bands, string, dental floss, pencils, etc. aren't bookmarks and shouldn't be used as such. Flat paper bookmarks really are best. Archival paper is nice, but if you remember to take the marker out of the book when you decide to quit reading, ordinary paper markers are fine. Pieces of paper, left in a book for 20 years, leave a brown stain so eschew the common practice of leaving bookmarks, relevant newspaper articles, scraps of paper, etc. in the book. Avoid markers, which damage the pages. Leave your grandmother's silver Tiffany marker on display, not in the book. Oh, and, as your fourth-grade teacher mentioned, don't leave the book open and flat to save your place.

Don't mark up library books. Any marks in or on books lessen their value. That includes coffee stains, rings left by glasses, your name and address, grandmotherly admonitions, underlining, highlighting (yellow highlighters ought always to be kept at least 10 yards away from valuable books), and, yes, even the cleverest of bookplates. Unless, of course, the bookplate or signature lends value.

The dust jackets are there to protect the book. But even a sturdy dust jacket can't save a book from dogs and babies - keep your library books out of reach.

Remove books carefully from the shelf. Ever noticed those tiny tears at the top of the spine of many books? They're a common fault and result from removing the book from the shelf by pulling at the top of the spine (the head cap). Better reach in from the top and slide the book out or push the books on either side in and grasp the spine. Dust with a feather duster (away from the spine) or a hand vac set at a very low power.

Store books carefully. The rules are simple but finding the space and creating the correct environment are often inconvenient ---- the result being books "temporarily" stored in bad places that turn out to be book homes for a generation or more.

At the top of the list of things to be avoided are heat, dampness, UV rays, and extreme changes in temperature and humidity. According to the AIC, "a cool, dry, and stable environment" is best for book rooms. The best shelving protects books from dust and dirt (glass doors are nice) and allows books to be shelved upright with space both in back and front of the books. Make sure your hands are clean. And please, please, please do not carry books in the same bag as any type of liquid!

Oh, and enjoy the library's books. Love them. Talk with them occasionally. Take them home, rifle through the pages and spend some quality time with them. I'm not sure why it helps, but I know they hate being neglected.

Water damage to a library book.

This resource is supported by the Institute of Museum and Library Services under the provisions of the Library Services and Technology Act as administered by State Library of Iowa.