by Margot Rosenberg, Dog Lovers Bookshop
Co-author, The Care and Feeding of Books Old and New: A Simple Repair Manual for Book Lovers

The Care and Feeding of Books Old and NewRoaches, silverfish, crickets, fungi, and other reincarnations of literary critics are among the physical threats of books, and we urge our fellow book lovers to learn more about them and some of the simple ways they can be kept at bay.

In The Enemies of Books, a nineteenth-century tome that inspired us when we wrote The Care and Feeding of Books Old and New, William Blades quotes J. Doraston’s poem "The Bookworm" (devoted to the entomological, not the eager reader, variety). The poet reasons that the book “’tis bread to the poor vermin.” Leave food near books, and you've issued an invitation to an endless buffet. We’re told that insects especially love the starch sizing in books.

Books really are alive
Books are organic, made of trees, cotton, leather, and even dissolved dinosaurs via petrochemical descent. Books are like humans and dogs, in that we all share the carbon molecule. And the organic attracts other life-forms, some of which can cause destruction. With that commonality in mind, why not resolve to learn more about how to protect books from their living enemies, especially the most terrifying of them all: mold and mildew.

Plastic Book CoversGood book caring rules to live by
General rules are these: keep food away from books, keep books in a low-humidity environment (as near as possible to 50 percent humidity is best), keep books away from temperature extremes (68 degrees Fahrenheit is usually comfortable for people, but less so for the fungi that produce mold and mildew), and protect books with plastic covers, or plastic bags in extreme situations. Avoid insecticides and chemicals unless prescribed by a professional; if you must use an insect spray, make sure it contains pyrethrins.

For roaches, we like boric acid. It is toxic and must be kept away from kids and pets, but it is effective. Try small, open containers of the powder on shelves behind books. You might try the ancient “drink and die recipe," which combines one cup of water, two cups of sugar, and two tablespoons of boric acid. (The concept of “appetizing poison,” after all, is the foundation of our fast-food industry.)

Mold and mildiew
Mold, a term used interchangeably with mildew in the book world, is a ubiquitous and fast-growing fungus about which much is written on the Internet and elsewhere. Remember that it harms not only books but human health and the spaces in which we live and work.

A popular and environmentally safe way to dispose of mold on books is by freezing. Tightly wrap the books, thoroughly dry, in plastic wrap or a heavy-duty plastic bag (one that has never held food, of course) or an archival-quality plastic bag. Put the books in a freezer for a few days. Then brush the remains away with a soft brush.

Above all, if you spot mold on books, isolate the books as the contagious sources they are. Immediately quarantine them in plastic.

Document cleaning padInsect stains
Insect stains, common in many an old book, can often be scraped off with a blunt knife; very fine, used sandpaper; a document cleaning pad; or any mild, dry abrasive.

So if you truly care for books, take good care of them. Savor their goodness and extend their lives, but don't let them be served as savories for their living enemies. We may not all be as sharp as William Blades when it comes to helping books survive, but we can all make the bookcare master proud of our efforts.

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