One woman’s joy is another woman’s peril

by Rachel Baker on October 11, 2007

old booksOne of the best smells in the world to me is an old used bookstore. I love the way you can almost taste the books lying on the shelves waiting for someone to notice. Browsing an old book store is like looking for that perfect puppy at the SPCA. If books could be personified, I imagine they sit there, waiting for a prospective new owner to walk by and fall in love instantly. If they could talk, each book would speak with the voice of the main character telling you all the wonderful tricks it can do.

But I know everyone is not like me. The thought of old musty books leave some running for disinfectant… or Claritin D. Between the dust and mildew smell, old books can cause headaches, sneezing and stuffy noses. This is especially true if the books have been stored improperly.

Here’s a few things to remember when storing, and then unpacking your books, that will save your books from the ramifications of chemical disinfectants.

When storing your books for a long duration, you should place the books flat in a box or on end with the spine down. If you distort the book, the spine will take the weird curvatures and may not be able to be straightened.

The place you store your books is important. Books should only be stored in cool, dry places far away from insects and rodents. If you live in humid areas, this is a big concern. Most storage facilities now provide units that are air conditioned and humidity controlled.

When finally unpacking them, IF you find mold or mildew on the books, you will want to get a slightly damp cloth and gently wipe the stop of the book working away from the book. Remember to do this over outside as the spores will get into the air and could make you sick. You will want to air dry them – stand them vertically and let the pages fall open. Check them periodically for dryness, and don’t forget that direct sunlight can fade the pages. The Library of Congress has a great page on recovering water-logged books and books with mold growth.

To get rid of a lingering musty smell, the Northeast Document Conservation Center suggests a great deodorizing technique. The first step is to create an enclosed chamber. This is most easily done by using two garbage cans, one large (with a lid) and one small. Put the book(s) in the small can. Put the small can in the large can, add an odor-absorbing material like baking soda, charcoal briquettes or kitty litter to the large can and cover with the lid. Check it periodically to see if the books still smell musty. If they do, leave them; if they don’t, take them out.

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