Cranky says, "If you take good care of your books, they will last many years and you won't need my help!"
Every day general book care:
Like any other valuable possession, books need to be kept in a safe place. But safety for a book isn't exactly the same as safety for jewelry, so you don't have to lock your books away. Provide sturdy shelving that supports them standing straight up or lying flat. Avoid leaving a book leaning at an angle or otherwise positioned where it might eventually become bowed, twisted, or warped. Even a slight bow from top to bottom increases the strain on the spine tremendously when the book is opened and closed. Books of similar size should be shelved together. Leave enough space between books so that they can be easily drawn from the shelf. Tightly shelved books are often damaged by pulling on the soft edge of the cover at the head of the spine. Oversized books and thin magazines may need to be laid flat. Stack them from smallest on top to largest on the bottom. Locating bookshelves near interior walls is preferable to exterior walls to minimize temperature and humidity changes.
Keep your books in an area sheltered from the ultraviolet of sunlight and florescent fixtures. Keep the temperature between 50 and 75 degrees and the relative humidity between 30 to 40 percent. Heat dries out paper and binding materials. Very dry conditions are also bad for bindings, while too much humidity encourages the growth of mold and mildew. Fortunately, the correct temperature and humidity ranges are also reasonably comfortable for humans, so what makes you feel good is also good for your books.
For long-term storage of books that are seldom used, a closed bookcase or cabinet will reduce exposure to dust, pollen, and mold spores. Even better are storage containers with tight-fitting lids. The ones made of soft polyethylene and sold for food storage are fine.
Books on shelves for any extended period of time will become dusty. A soft, clean vacuum cleaner brush attachment is excellent for removing dust from books without spreading it elsewhere. Most plastic coated buckrams and imitation leathers can be wiped gently with a slightly dampened soft cloth to remove light dirt and fingerprints. Use only a soft, DRY cloth on paper, uncoated fabric, or leather covers. These covers can be permanently stained by dampness. Even leathers with an apparently durable, slick finish can have barely visible scuffs and cracks that allow water to soak below the surface. In general, we do not recommend any cleaning except by dusting, but occasionally something is spilled that prevents a book from being used. If something like this must be cleaned from a book, try a slightly damp cloth. Avoid all chemical and abrasive cleansers. They can stain the book or damage the cover material's protective finish. Be stingy with water; use only as much as is absolutely necessary to return the book to a usable state. Do not let water soak into the cover or pages. Confine the moisture to the grime. Too much water warps covers, wrinkles pages, and encourages mold and mildew.
Leather bound books usually need very little cleaning or maintenance, but occasionally leather that has been subjected to a harsh environment will become stiff, rot, or crack. A split cover is very difficult to rejuvenate. In the past, various oils were used to soften stiff covers and hopefully extend their life span. Unfortunately, the oils are temporary fixes and not successful the majority of the time. There is always a tendency to use more oil than necessary, making the book attract dirt, feel greasy, and staining the pages. We don't see any long-term benefit in oiling the entire cover of a book.
Sometimes there may be a short term benefit to applying a little bit of oil along a splitting hinge where the cover meets the spine. This may make a leather cover last a while longer before it splits further. Again, this is only a temporary fix. Once leather has deteriorated enough to start splitting, it will continue to get worse.
Cranky says, "I don't recommend oiling leather book covers. There are too many things that can go wrong. That said, here are some warnings for those who still follow the practice of oiling the leather covers of their books. These are not suggestions, so don't complain about the results. I wish you luck, but you are ENTIRELY ON YOUR OWN!"
Oiling is a difficult process that requires great care and patience. Be careful not to discolor the leather. Only time can confirm if the leather was actually improved. Once a leather cover has become brittle or split, rebinding into a new cover is likely the only really successful remedy. Several products are sold as leather preservatives or rejuvenators. Many years ago, every bookbinder had a personal favorite. Some even mixed up a "secret formula" combination of oils. They all do about the same thing in the end.
Neet's Foot Oil - just like you put on baseball gloves. It's a liquid and likes to soak in deep. It tends to darken leather. Put one drop at a time on a fingertip and rub it evenly and sparingly into the leather. Buff off any excess with a soft cloth. Too much will make the leather feel greasy and soil quickly.
Saddle soap - thinned with a couple of drops of water to be buttery - not foamy! Rub a small amount evenly and sparingly into the leather with fingertips. Buff with a soft cloth to improve the shine.
"Mink" oil - used on ladies' purses and shoes - typically an aerosol foam. Usually cleans and leaves its oil behind in the leather when buffed dry. Be stingy. It's easy to use too much. Apply with a clean, soft cloth and remove any excess immediately
Saddle maker's hide rejuvenator cream - made to soften dry, hard leather saddle parts. Tends to darken leather during application, but darkness often fades after a few days. Apply sparingly with fingertips and wipe off excess with a clean, soft cloth. Tends to soak deep and has a slight "horsey" odor that disappears after a while.
All of these products are very easy to OVER-apply. Half as much as you think you need will probably be more than enough! Once again, we do not recommend oiling leather covered books. Consult your Bindery Professional for more information.
If your book has more serious problems, check our REPAIRS section!
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