Gather & Bind:
The Fundamentals of Book Collecting

Part Nine: Protecting My Investment III – Storage

ONE OF THE AXIOMS OF BOOK COLLECTING is that no matter how much room you have in your bookcases, it will never be quite enough. If you live in a small apartment and have room for only 50 books, your collection will grow to 100. If you live in a huge mansion with glorious built-ins that can hold 25,000 volumes, you will acquire 30,000. This is not a matter of poor impulse control or a failure to plan; buying too many books is simply an irresistible impulse.

The first move is usually to build more shelving, but this option has finite limits. When all the nooks and crannies are filled, the collector is tempted to double and triple the books on the shelves, or lay extra volumes on top of the rows. These are not satisfactory solutions. When books are doubled or tripled, they are no longer visible; when they rest on top of other books, they can warp and their weight can damage the books underneath them. Therefore, these are only short-term, stopgap measures. The inevitable solution is to cull the library and put the surplus books into storage.

Last time, I stated that the two greatest enemies of paper-based products are sunlight and water. When books are stored in cardboard boxes, exposure to sunlight is not a problem, but care must be taken that the storage boxes and area are dry and clean. Oftentimes, books are stored in basements, and basements can be damp. Even if your basement is generally dry, keep in mind that basements are more vulnerable to flooding from plumbing leaks and storm damage than other rooms in the house. If you store boxed books in your basement, we recommend that you keep the boxes off the floor. Place them on industrial shelving or box pallets to reduce the risk of their coming in contact with damp or water.

Commercial storage units are not meant for human habitation. They are often poorly insulated, and sometimes experience extremes of heat and cold. Since paper and books are made from organic components, radical changes in temperature can cause boards to warp, glues to weaken, and bindings to loosen. One major factor in choosing a storage facility is how it minimizes exposure to climatic changes. Here in Tucson, where summer temperatures often run above 100 degrees, we chose one that is air-conditioned. The additional expense was minimal.

When choosing boxes for your stored books, look for strength and stability. My favorite storage boxes are “bankers’ boxes,” which have separate lids, double sides and bottom panels, and triple end panels with punched handles, for easy carrying. Bankers’ boxes are readily available at most office supply outlets, and economically priced at about $1.50 each. I find that they comfortably hold 20 to 25 octavo volumes. The advantages of bankers’ boxes are their strength, stability and uniform size. They can be stacked five or even six high without danger of collapsing. One thing I have learned over the years: Use a felt-tip pen to label each box’s contents, so you will not have to open everyone when searching for a particular book.

Finally, in packing books, try to stack books of similar sizes together to minimize potential warping. As when they are shelved, they should be packed in boxes so that they rest comfortably, allowing no movement when the box is lifted. Never over-pack a box; when in doubt, start a new box. And, critically, always leave at least an inch of head room at the top of each box, so that when boxes are stacked, the sides bear the additional weight, not the books.

With these precautions you may keep your “surplus” collection safely protected until you find a new place to live that has more shelf space—and start the whole process over again.

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