beckham books - secondhand and antiquarian religious booksellers

Advice on caring for your Books and Documents

All of us own books, periodicals, photographs, maps, certificates and various papers of sentimental, intellectual or family interest, some of monetary value. We may wish to keep these just for record purposes or to hand them down within the family.

Here are some suggestions for keeping them in good condition.

Handling & Storage

The factor, which most influences the longevity of paper, bookbindings, etc., is mechanical damage from usage and mishandling. Every time you handle a document you shorten its life just a little; handle it roughly and you shorten it a lot.

Overpacked shelves reduce air circulation and encourage excessive tugging on spines to remove a book. Large volumes may benefit from being laid on their sides.

Avoid folding papers if possible; fold only once if you must.

Keep smaller items together in good quality envelopes and folders.

Consider the possible harm, which could result from framing a valued item: would a copy do just as well?

Do not use self adhesive tapes or pads on anything you wish to keep.

Other factors relating to book storage


Light, especially direct sunlight, may cause fading of inks and photo-chemical deterioration of paper. Photographs are particularly susceptible to this kind of damage.


Heat, Humidity and Moisture

Temperature and humidity (the water content of the air) are related. Heat accelerates chemical processes within paper and leather especially in moist conditions. Excess moisture encourages fungal growth and may weaken adhesives or cause staining. Too little moisture makes paper, leather and parchment shrink and become brittle and distorted. The boards of a book may warp so badly that they tear away from the text block.

These are recommended levels of humidity (55%-65%) and temperature 13º-18ºC for storage of archives but they are difficult to maintain in the home.


Pollution, mould, insects and vermin

Rats, mice and some insects can damage archival materials. Dust and dirt encourage growth of mould and insect infestation. Dust also contains aerial pollutants from combustion of fossil fuels. The sulphur reacts with moisture to produce weak but persistent sulphuric acid. Acids will degrade all materials. Dust and soot from domestic fires is also harmful. The acidic grease from your fingers will permanently disfigure photographs, negatives and the corners of pages.

Articles in contact with items of a poorer quality will be affected by them: acid migration from a cheap folder may affect even the best quality paper; photographs stored in albums of poor quality may tarnish and discolour.



Photograph albums with polyester pockets are far superior to ‘sticky back’ varieties. Traditional photo-corners are fine if the page is of good quality.

Negatives should be stored in sleeves and placed in an envelope or folder; they are an original and irreplaceable item. Use pencil to write on the backs of prints. Avoid touching the face of prints and do not touch negatives, transparencies or plates except by the edges.

If you have any enquiries regarding the safekeeping and repair of your books and records. We recommend you contact either:

The suggestions in this article are meant as guidelines and Beckham Books cannot accept responsibility for any damage incurred as a result of the advice given.