How to care for paper and books

Volunteer removing dust from books and bookshelf at Tyntesfield, North Somerset

Despite appearances, modern papers made from wood pulp are often less durable than some papers made in the 19th century and before.

From children’s drawings and maps to cigarette cards and favourite books – simple handling and storage techniques can help these paper-based materials last as long as your memories.

Here's some useful advice from our conservation experts on how to look after paper and books:

  • Protect your paper items from dust and light in acid-free boxes. Layer items horizontally, interleaved with acid-free tissue paper, and store boxes flat, away from heat and damp.
  • To display valuable or well-loved paper items, ask for ‘conservation framing’; they will be sealed between archival-quality materials to protect them from deterioration, insects and dust.
  • Good ventilation is essential in a bookcase, especially when fixed to an outside wall. To prevent condensation and mould, leave a gap of 2.5 cm between the back of the shelf and the wall.
  • Before opening dirty books, remove the dust and grime. Gently dust off the top and sides of the text block using a hogshair brush; wear a face mask and capture the dust in a vacuum cleaner.
  • Never use self-adhesive tape for repairing paper; the adhesive penetrates the paper and produces an indelible stain.
  • Paper is highly susceptible to light damage and irreversibly fades colours. Whenever possible, keep important paper-based materials in dark storage, including photographs, watercolours and miniatures, prints and drawings.
  • Book covers and spines are also susceptible to light damage including textiles of all kinds, leather, parchment and vellum. 
Books in the State Bedroom at Kingston Lacy, Dorset. Colourful spines like these can fade if exposed to direct sunlight
Books on the shelves in the State Bedroom at Kingston Lacy, Dorset.
Books in the State Bedroom at Kingston Lacy, Dorset. Colourful spines like these can fade if exposed to direct sunlight
Books in the Print Room at Knole, Kent. When cleaning your prized books, use a hogshair brush to gently remove dust
Books in the Print Room at Knole, Kent
Books in the Print Room at Knole, Kent. When cleaning your prized books, use a hogshair brush to gently remove dust