If you buy second-hand books this post might be of interest to you. As a book collector I often buy old, second hand books. No matter how good the condition of the book, it always needs a little attention. (You do not want, for instance, to contaminate you other books with nasty invisible critters that inhabited the book when living with the previous owner.)
I have been reading a lot about the care for second-hand and/or old books recently. This caused that I do not only find the care a necessity, but fun too! Below I will share some tips, products and points of interest that I either read or found out about from experience. If you have any tips, please share them in the comments! Click on ‘more’ to see how you can be a BD!
How to become a Book Doctor (bd.)
This article will give you some tips and tricks about old and/or second hand books. Sometimes the book looks perfect, but there might be some hidden problems you need to address. Below I will give you some pointers, based on my own experience. Always think before you do. Sometimes your attempts to repair something can make it worse!
1. You just bought a second hand book
If it looks good, the book might still benefit from a bit of cleaning. After reading about it, I now use alcohol. Before that, I used a damp cloth if a book was really dirty. Water and books do not match, so alcohol is a good substitute. I use a very high concentrate. Take some cotton and rub the cover, spine and back gently. You might want to try it on a small part first. I found out that the ink on older books tends to ‘rub off’.
Of course, you do not use this on linen or leather books. You can use a dry cleaning pad for those. Since they are not available in my country, I had a relative from the US ship them to me. I am always amazed be the amount of dirt that comes off during the cleaning of a book cover.
Also, do not forget to flip trough the pages. There could be some crumbs or other things lodged between the pages. This is not only nasty to look at when you read a book, it can also stain. I use a brush to remove this stuff.
1.1 Better save then sorry
When you buy a book from a person and not a bookstore or dealer, you might want to be careful about bugs. There are critters that just love the taste of paper! It is my worst nightmare to have surrounding books eaten by an additional unintended ‘purchase’. If you do not trust it, put your book in a plastic bag and seal it tightly. Make sure it is airtight. After this, put it in the freezer for at least 24 hours. Everything living in your book should be dead by then.
2. Additional care
Some books need some extra attention. They can be damaged, written in or have other problems. There are great books written about these kind of problems. I will state them in another chapter.
Old books with dust jackets have tears in them quite often. You can leave it, but I try to repair it most of the time. This to make sure the tears do not get worse over time. For dust jackets I repair them from the inside with invisible tape or book tape. This tape does not discolor over time or get loose. You can also repair tears in pages like this, but it is not very attractive.
2.2 The writing’s on the book
The price of a book is often written down in pencil on the title page. I always get rid of it with a good quality eraser. You can do the same with underlining or the name of the previous owner. When it is written in ink, you can try an eraser for ink. This does not give good results most of the time. It also makes the page thinner. You can also try some very, very fine sanding paper.
There are repair kits available that contain product that help you care for your books. They are often quite expensive and you cannot choose the products. (See here and here.) For this reason I have made my own repair kit. This is what it looks like:
I bought a small toolbox from a DIY-store to keep my ‘bookish medical kit’.
It has pencil and ink erasers and some cotton swabs in these compartments.
Here you see some invisible tape, an eraser in a ‘pen’ and a brush.
Here you see some sand paper, a dry cleaning pad, cotton gloves, alcohol, a micro fibre cloth and some paper tissues.
4. Other tips for the health of your books
If you are serious about your books, like I am, you need to take some extra steps for the wellbeing of your books. Since our move in April of this year I have a room dedicated to my books. A real library, my long time dream. I wanted to do it right, so I took some extra care to ensure the health of my collection.
I keep the room dark at all times. Sunlight is very damaging for books, it can discolor the backs of books in no time. It can make leather binding crack. I have a roller-blind with an insulating coating in front of my window. You can buy them really cheap at IKEA. It also makes sure that the room does not get to hot, which is also bad for your books. Even more so when you have a lot of leather bindings. The ideal temperature is about 20 Celsius or 70 Fahrenheit.
Water is the biggest enemy of books. A damp book gets wobbly pages and might even develop mold. In an ideal world, the humidity in your library should be no higher then 50 percent. You can buy a hygrometer (see picture below) to check this. The humidity in my library is very high since I live below sea level and on regained land in The Netherlands. Houses build on this land are often quite damp.
I bought a dehumidifier to get the damp (70%!) down. The bonus is that any insect that creeps into your library will die, since the air is to dry. (It also makes my nose and mouth dry when I sit in my library.) Make sure to ventilate often so the damp can leave the room better and the room keeps smelling ‘fresh’.
4.3 Other book hazards
- Even though I smoke, the library is a non-smoking zone. Nicotine clings to your books, discolors them and makes them sticky. Which even I find that disgusting.
- Do not eat (or drink) above a book, for reasons stated above. You also make terrible stains if a piece of cheese falls on your book.
- Do not put a book down pages facing down when its open. It breaks the back of your book which looks terrible. Even worse, pages may fall out.
- If you have special books try not to handle them to much with your bare hands. Your hands always have some grease on them which can damages the book. This often shows itself after a long time. Handle your cherished books with white cotton gloves to keep them in pristine condition.
- Do not lie your books flat, this damages the spine. Stacking them horizontally is even worse. Due to the weight the back/spine gets either hollow or moves to the right. For this reason do not fit your books to tightly onto a shelve upright either.
- Support a thick heavy book when you open it to make sure the spine does not crack. You can put your hand, another book or a small pillow beneath the cover.
- Be careful with bookmarks that slide onto a page. It often leaves a mark on the page.
5. Further reading
I love “The Care and Feeding of Books Old and New” by Margot Rosenberg and Bern Marcowitz. They tend to repeat themselves, but overall it is very interesting. I learned a lot. If you love dogs, this is especially fun to read. The couple write about their dogs in this book too. You can learn more about the book here.
Another book is “At home with books” by Estelle Ellis (ao). This book is quite different from the one above, since it also contains pictures from home libraries. The book also gives great tips on how to care for your library. A friend gave this book to me and I absolutely love it. You can find out more here.