For most people like me, books are precious assets to be protected from damage or any potential damage. However we can only do so much to protect them, I say this because different books are made with different materials. It’s therefore important to get a general understanding of how long a book can survive with this fact in mind.
In this article I’m going to explain how long a book can survive and the factors that affect this survival as well as other relevant information that will help you understand books from a physical standpoint.
With that said, how long can books survive?
Books made with buffered acid free or alkaline paper can survive 200 to 1000 years while books made with acidic paper can only last 10 to 30 years. Book paperback covers usually last 5 to 10 years while hard covers can last upwards of 30 years.
Understanding paper types is of high importance in understanding its effect on the general survival of books.
Acid Free Paper
Acid free paper is sometimes called archival paper because it used to preserve important texts. It is quite a specialist material and takes different forms. Books made from such paper have a lifespan of a 100 to even 1000 years.
This kind of paper is usually buffered with a chemical agent that neutralizes any form of acid that may transfer to it. Acid can easily spread to acid free paper if it isn’t buffered.
Acidic paper is paper that had acidic substances used in the process of manufacturing it. Acidic paper has been around for a long time and is responsible for libraries losing their archives and collections due to paper deteriorations and other forms of wear and tear.
If you have any book that has turned yellow, then it was sure enough made with acidic paper or was around acidic paper whose acidity later spread to it.
Acidic paper can last 10 to 30 years and the lifespan really depends on how well the paper is kept. Paper degradation due to acidity is a very slow process but can be accelerated when the paper is stored in a highly acidic environment.
Acidic paper can certainly be threatening and unsettling for somebody with a sizeable library. However there are ways in which you can de-acidify paper and I’ll explain some of the ways.
Poland is widely known for its history with de-acidification between 2000 and 2008. It carried out a large scale de-acidification program to save and preserve the heritage of polish culture in the library and archives of the 19th and 20th centuries.
One of the ways in which paper can be de-acidified is by immersing it in de-acidifying liquid and move it gently to allow the magnesium oxide to penetrate into the internal structure of the paper. Another alternative to consider is simply taking your book collection to a paper restoration clinic. Of course this is not an option if you don’t have such types of establishments in your area.
Another way to de-acidify paper is by humidifying the acidic book to a relatively high humidity, and inserting sheets of also high humidity paper containing calcium carbonate between the pages.
Knowing acid free paper
I know what you’re thinking… how the heck do I know if a book has acid free paper or not? Well, luckily most manufacturers indicate the compliance of their product with the test requirements of the ISO 9706 or ANSI Z39.48 1992 standards using a circled infinity symbol.
If you are unable to confirm the pH of your paper through compliance indication, you can tear a little paper in your book and then dissolve it in 2 ml of water. Then dip a strip of litmus paper.
Blue litmus doesn’t change color if the paper is non-acidic or alkaline but changes to red if the paper is acidic. Red litmus paper doesn’t change color if the paper is acidic; it changes to blue if the paper is non-acidic.
How to make your books survive longer
Keep water away
Keep your books free of any liquids because it can make your paper susceptible to deterioration. This is especially true for paperbacks whose covers are not necessarily strong enough to keep water away from the pages.
Therefore, having a book shelf or a small library can be helpful especially for those with more than 20 books.
Keep books away from acidity
If you have books that are already turning yellow, chances are they made from acidic paper and are in the process of self-destructing. You should keep such books separate from other books, especially ones made with unbuffered paper because acidity can easily spread to them.
Therefore, start the restoration process in your acidic paper books or keep them away from your other books so you control the damage and avoid any spread of acidity or mold.
Also ensure that your books are stored away from sunlight because it can be damaging to pages. So be cautious of any windows that may be letting sunlight in. This leads me to my next point…
Temperature plays a huge role in the overall preservation of books and paper in general. You want to make sure that you keep books in relative humidity of around 45% and the temperature at around 69 degrees Fahrenheit, keep it below 75.
This will help you counteract any paper deterioration and any potential spread of mold or any other acidic agents.
Manage air flow
It’s also wise to control the airflow around your books because too much air can make it easy for dust, debris, vapor and other agents to spread to your books which could result in potential damage.
With that said, keep the air reaching your books controlled so that your books only receive a fair amount that is safe and keeps any high and low humidity at bay.
Handle books with care
Proper handling of books will help you avoid any unnecessary accidents from ruining your collection. Keep your books away from pets and children, keep liquids far off etc.