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Heritage Hub Collections Care training

Online Collections Care training

How to preserve your community or family archive

Advice on how to protect and look after your physical archive


Collections Care 11: caring for books


Want to know how to protect books and volumes in storage? Unsure of the best option for protective enclosures?

Here we will focus on books in storage. There is no "one-size-fits-all" answer! But here are some of the solutions we have used.

Large volumes can be housed in boxes and should ideally be stored horizontally.


If books are large and to be stored standing upright, it is best practice to use a "textblock support" to prevent strain and distortion of the binding. By boxing the volumes we are at least protecting them from light, dust and dirt, and they can be easily identified from their neatly written labels, which is already an improvement. Sometimes you have to take just one step at a time.

Various types of specially designed protective book enclosures can be purchased from suppliers (See Collections Care 5). These include clamshell boxes (also known as "drop-spine" or "phase" boxes) and two-part boxes. If you have a real treasure you can get a cloth covered archival box, even a special bespoke one made-to-measure.

But protection can be a simple archival folder. This could be a four-flap type folder (See Collections Care 9) or just a wrap-around of archival quality paper or card.


If you are tying something, unless the edges of the boards (front and back hard covers) protrude over the edges of the pages, it is important to wrap books first to stop tape cutting in and causing damage. Here we have replaced the un-archival pink tape with an unbleached cotton tape. It is best practice to tie the bow across the edge of the book – either the top ("head"), or side ("fore-edge") ideally, (although we didn’t remember to do this before we took this picture – oops!)


But we did do it the right way on these volumes!

Several smaller wrapped items can be placed into a larger box, but don’t be tempted to put too many in together! Clear labelling helps to identify things quickly and easily. The tie-on labels used here help the document production team at Gloucestershire Archives to find and retrieve things quickly for our visitors.

It is not necessary to use tie on labels where the wrapper can be labelled up clearly and there are fewer items in a box.


These books on open shelves in the strong room needed better protection, but are an awkward shape, and do not fit a standard size box. Thankfully you can get individual folders and boxes made to measure.


Several companies now offer this service, and it can be a surprisingly affordable option.

You might have spotted that we use a lot of grey coloured archival card in our work. We have chosen to use it because it is not a commonly seen colour, and we know instantly that it is of archival quality when we see it.

You can get the same material in a buff colour, or white, but these can be confused with non-archival stationery products. If you will be passing on a collection to someone else to look after at some point in the future, and have put time, effort and money into protecting it with archival quality materials, it is good for your successor to be able to see this clearly. Otherwise they might throw away all the good work you have done and start again!! It is a good idea to include a specification sheet (usually available on supplier websites) somewhere in your accompanying paperwork too, so that people can understand the nature of the material and the level of protection that you have provided.

There will be more to come from us on caring for books, but for now have a look at the care and conservation of books guidelines from the Institute of Conservation (ICON)

Page updated: 17/11/2020 Page updated by: Ally McConnell

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