Skip to content
Penn State University Libraries



Special Collections Library
104 Paterno Library
University Park, PA 16802

Telephone: (814) 865-7931
Fax: (814) 863-5318

ASK! Special Collections

Request Instruction Session

Staff Directory

Staff Resources




Preservation FAQs

1.  My books are wet from a flood in my basement. How should I dry them out?

Remove books from the room until water leak is under control.

Place books in a well ventilated room, and use a fan to speed the drying of the paper, or air the books outside, but not in direct sunlight.

Fan out the pages of each book so that air reaches all of the pages.

Wash mildew off moldy shelves with a solution of one cup of chlorine bleach in a gallon of water.

Be sure the shelves are dry before the books are returned to them.


2.  My books are damp. How should I dry them out?

Dry books by placing them in a well-ventilated room. A fan can be used to speed the drying of damp paper.

Be sure the books are fanned open so that air can reach all the pages.

If the books are valuable, you may want to consult a conservator if any stains remain.


3.  How do I get mold and mildew off my books?

Be sure books are completely dry.

Take books outside and carefully brush them off with a new paintbrush.

If you wish to remove any stains, consult a conservator.

To prevent mold and mildew, keep books dusted. Dirty books are particularly vulnerable.


4.  How do I get the musty odor out of my books?

It's difficult to get musty odor out of books.

Try putting the books outside on a dry, bright, and airy day. Keep them out of direct sunlight. Be sure to fan the pages out. Do this for several days.

An alternative suggestion is to put the books in an airtight container with baking soda or charcoal for a week or longer. Keep the baking soda or charcoal from touching the books. Be sure to check the container to see that no mold is growing.


5.  I have some old family letters. How should I store them?

Never store valuable paper items in an attic or basement.

Unfold the letters, and store them in acid-free folders.

Letters can also be encapsulated in Mylar D for easier handling.


6.  I have an old newspaper. How should I store it?

Never store valuable paper items in an attic or basement.

Store the newspaper in an acid-free folder or storage box.

If there is only one article, it could be encapsulated in Mylar D. Put a piece of acid-free paper behind the article to adsorb the acid in the newsprint.

Since most newspaper is acidic, it can be neutralized by spraying with Bookkeeper Deacidification spray.


7.  How should I store a collection of science fiction pulp magazines?

Never store valuable paper items in an attic or basement.

Magazines should be stored in chemically inert plastic bags. Polyethylene or polypropylene are two types of plastic that are recommended.

Magazines can also be covered with acid-free paper.

These individually covered items could then be placed in an acid-free storage box.

8.  I've just inherited a lot of books. What's the best way to store them?

Books should not be stored in an attic or basement; a cool, dry environment is best.

Ideally, books should be stored in a windowless room with the temperature a constant 60° and the humidity at 50%. Temperatures between 60° and 70° and humidity between 50% and 60% are acceptable.

Shelve books vertically on shelves. Very large books should be stored horizontally. Do not shelve books so tightly that they could be damaged when being pulled from the shelves.

Books that are too tall for the shelf may be stored on their spine, not on their fore-edge.

Newspaper clippings, pressed flowers, or other materials that stain books should be removed.

Keep books dusted; dirty books are vulnerable to mildew.

Books can also be stored in acid-free boxes.

9.  I'm installing an exhibit area in our church vestibule. Where can I order exhibit cases? Where can I order bookstands? How can I display books (some horizontally, some vertically)? I want to be able to show some covers, and I want to open other books to certain pages. What's the best way to do that?

Exhibit cases can be ordered from University Products.

Different styles of bookstands can be ordered from University Products and Gaylord.

Books can be displayed at a certain page by cutting Mylar D into strips and wrapping the strips vertically around the section of pages to be viewed. Clear glass weights can be used to hold pages down, and wedge-shaped supports made from acid-free cardboard can be used under the front and back covers. Wooden or plastic blocks could also be used to support book covers in a temporary exhibit.

10.  I'm making a photo album. What are the best supplies to use? My children are putting together a scrapbook of theatre programs and photos. What kind of materials should they use?

Always use acid-free supplies.

Ask for paper that is 100% cotton rag. Different weights of paper can be obtained from art-supply stores.

Pre-cooked wheat-starch paste is the best adhesive, but Scotch glue stick is another fairly safe alternative for paper-to-paper applications.

Archival mounting corners can be purchased from conservation suppliers.

11.  I have an old deed. How should I frame it and hang it?

Most framers are knowledgeable in conservation framing. Ask your framer if he or she has had training in this technique.

Be sure that all framing materials are acid-free.

Be sure that no glass or plastic touches the item.

Do not display the deed in direct sunlight or high-intensity lamp; strong light will fade the document.

12.  I have some old family letters. How can I display them?

Old family letters can be framed as above.

A letter can also be matted in acid-free or 100% rag museum board. Put a piece of Mylar D between the item and the top mat to protect it from being touched.

13.  The front cover has fallen off my family Bible, and some of the front pages are loose. Should I have it rebound?

Secure covers and loose pages by tying the book with flat linen or cotton tape. Never use rubber bands or twine.

Never repair a book with cellophane or Scotch tape.

Binding can be expensive, and while we can recommend some bookbinders that specialize in Bible rebinding, a better and less expensive way to preserve your family treasure is to have an acid-free box made for it. Another option is to have a simple library binding made to replace the old one.

14.  The front cover has fallen off a very rare 17th-century book. Where can I have it repaired and rebound?

Consult with a conservator or bookbinder for the repair and rebinding of a valuable book.

Secure covers and loose pages by tying the book with flat linen or cotton tape. Never use rubber bands or twine.

Never repair a book with cellophane or Scotch tape.

The book can be rebound, or a box can be made to store it in.

15.  I have a valuable Pennsylvania-German Fraktur that is torn. How would you suggest that I repair it?

A valuable paper item should be sent to a trained conservator to repair.

Never repair a paper item with cellophane or Scotch tape.

It should be kept in an acid-free folder until it is repaired.

It could also be encapsulated in Mylar D until it is repaired.

16.  A favorite drawing by my child is torn. How would you suggest that I repair it?

A less valuable paper item should also be kept in an acid-free folder or encapsulated in Mylar D.

Never repair a paper item with cellophane or Scotch tape.

A home repair can be made by using handmade Japanese paper applied with powdered wheat starch paste.

Archival repair tape can also be used on book and paper materials that aren't valuable.

17.  Where should I store my photographs and negatives?

Photographs and negatives should be stored separately in cool and dry conditions.

Ideally, the materials should be housed at a relative humidity of 20% to 40%, so attics and basements are not good storage areas.

If photographs are to be handled, archival-quality plastic sleeves are preferable because the photos can be viewed without removing them from the sleeves.

Paper sleeves are better if the items will be kept mostly in storage. Paper is also cheaper than plastic.

Knowing the type of photograph you have is important in determining how it should be stored.

18.  I spilled my soda on my microfilm reel. How can I safely dry it off?

If the microfilm roll is dirty or wet, wash it carefully in cool, clear water.

Unwind the reel, and loop film around a clothesline until it dries

A note on preservation supplies and conservation services:

Most local art-supply shops, framing shops, and photographic centers offer a selection of archival and acid-neutral products. If you can't find archival products locally, or if you want to contact a conservator or a bookbinder to work on a valuable book or document, contact The American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works for more information. The Rare Books Room also maintains lists of conservation centers (including The Conservation Center for Art and Historic Artifacts), preservation suppliers, and bookbinders. Please contact us ( if you need assistance in finding materials.

Some other libraries have developed webpages to demonstrate the proper treatment and repair of books [for non-rare materials]:


Conserv-O-Grams (National Park Service)

"Procedures and Treatments Used for Book Repair and Pamphlet Binding" (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign)

A Simple Book Repair Manual (Dartmouth College Library)