Art – Books

Protecting Rare Book Collections

Rare Books are made of organic materials that require special care and consideration.  Below are a few tips we recommend to protect your Rare Book Collection.

Environmental Conditions

  • Avoid exposing books to excessive amounts of light. Keep lights turned off in rooms that aren’t being used and block daylight.
  • Avoid rapid changes or extremes in temperature and humidity. Hot, dry conditions will damage letter and paper over time while damp conditions encourage mold growth.  Do not store books near sources of heat and avoid placing bookshelves against outside walls. The American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works recommends 70 degrees Fahrenheit and 50 percent relative humidity.[i]


  • Make sure to store books on shelves squarely upright and firmly supported by neighboring books or bookends. Bookend should be smooth so as not to damage books.  Avoid packing them so tightly that they cannot be removed.  Oversized books are best laid horizontally.[ii]


  • Consider using white gloves to handle rare books in order to avoid staining over time from the oils on your hand.
  • When removing a book from a shelf, gentle push the books on either side of the book inward so that you can get a firm grasp on the center of the spine. Keep one hand underneath the book in case it is heavier than thought so as not to drop the book.
  • Opening a book completely on a flat surface can be damaging to the spine and joints. It is recommended to put supports on either side of the book such as a rolled up towels in order to avoid unnecessary strain on the book.[iii]


  • Avoid storing books in basements, garages and attics and these spaces if not properly controlled can cause mold damage.
  • For long term storage it is best to books upright as if they were standing on the shelf. They should support each other and not be packed too tightly or loosely.


  • When packing for shipping it is best to wrap each book in acid-free tissue and place them between two archival boards so that they do not shift in transit.[iv] Each book can then be wrapped in a material such as bubble wrap for extra protection. It is best to ship books upright as if they were sitting on the shelf whenever possible.[v]
  • When packing them in a box, fill any voids with a material such as bubble wrap to limit movement. You might consider double boxing the books for added protection and do not pack multiple books so that they are heavier than one person could lift.[vi]


  • For high value books it is recommended to use a fine art shipper. Conduct a page count in front of the shipper and have the shipper do this in front of the recipient and sign off on that page count in writing.

Art Fairs

  • Be sure to lay out your display or booth is such a way that you can see all of the books so that no one can walk away with a book. Always be aware of your space.
  • Have extra pairs of white gloves on hand for patrons to use.  When possible handle books on behalf of patrons in order to avoid damages.

Be proactive! Develop a plan, and execute! 


[i] AIC, American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works, “Caring for Your Treasures,”

[ii] AIC

[iii] Met, Metropolitan Museum of Art, “Protecting Your Traveling Books,”

[iv] Met

[v] NEDCC, Northeast Document Conservation Center, “Packing and Shipping Paper Artifacts,”

[vi] NEDCC