When it comes to preserving historic artifacts decisions about environment and housing can be the most beneficial or harmful ones a caretaker has to make. With books, keeping them in a cool and within a stable temperature range without significant swings in humidity levels is best. A shelf that is out of direct sunlight in a house with central heating and air is sufficient. At the Library Society we have a temperature controlled vault that takes care of security and environmental concerns.
When a book has serious issues with stability and deterioration it is necessary to protect it beyond just the surrounding environment. The most ideal solution is to create a custom enclosure such as a clam shell box or wrapping. For years the library has wrapped damaged special collections books in acid free paper to protect them. This provides a safe barrier that contains the book and protects it from further wear. It seems like a great solution that takes the long term preservation of the book into account. But, there is a major problem with this solution and it has to do with a conservators arch-nemesis, tape.
It turned out that if the wrapping was removed and carelessly replaced, bits of the tape would lay against the surface of the book and stick to the covers. I had several books come across my bench with new and irreversible tape damage. Finally, enough was enough. I spoke with members of the staff, encouraging them to educate researchers and patrons about the issue and worked to develop an alternative to end the problem more effectively. A partial solution was found so that once a book had undergone stabilization and didn’t need to be fully wrapped, a tape-less Mylar wrapper could be used and the paper wrapper placed safely in the recycle.
This only works for books that are stable enough to forego the full paper wrapper, but it has the advantage of protecting the book around the sewing structure and boards, being able to actually see the book on the shelf, and no tape! The process was seamless and we simply replace the current paper wrappers with Mylar as we work on them. Its not a 100% fix, but it is a step in the right direction! I would be curious if any other libraries or archives have had similar problems and discovered more creative solutions.