The storage and protection of books and documents

Books, documents, maps, postcards and prints are not only vulnerable to the obvious ravages of fire and flood. They are also in constant danger from less obvious causes. Atmospheric pollution, light, careless handling and extremes of temperature and moisture will all cause the deterioration of paper, bindings, inks and colours. Other enemies include insects, vermin and mould growth. Suitable storage provision must be made if these perils - and the costs to which they give rise - are to be avoided.

The owner of a significant quantity of records will need to set aside specific accommodation for them. This page explains what is necessary and why, and includes lists of suppliers and of other sources of information. The owner of a small quantity of valuable items may not wish to provide separate accommodation, in a special room, but should find it possible to adapt this advice to their own circumstances.

All owners of documents of historical interest might want to consider depositing them in a record office, rather than taking the trouble to provide appropriate accommodation and packaging. The County Archivist is always willing to discuss deposit of Surrey documents, or direct owners to an appropriate record office for other documents.


The building and room in which the documents are to be housed must be of sound construction. Prevent the penetration of moisture and water by keeping the roof, rain water gutters and down pipes, damp courses, drains, pointing between brickwork etc, in good working order. Water pipes should not run through the room because of possible leaks and electrical wiring must be of a high standard to avoid the risk of fire. Disasters can and do occur; therefore fire detection and extinguishing equipment should be installed. Storage in basements and attics is not recommended.


Theft and vandalism are increasingly important factors in safe-guarding books and documents. Windows and doors are obvious weak points, and the local Crime Prevention Officer will be able to advise on what improvements to make. There is also a danger of loss by misplacement and borrowing. The provision of supervised access to the room should be considered.


If you have the means to monitor conditions the temperature should be at a fixed point between 13°C to 20°C with a tolerance of 1°C on either side and relative humidity should be at a fixed point between 35% to 60%. In preserving books and documents, the temperature and humidity should be as constant as possible and the environment monitored frequently. A simple thermometer can be used for measuring temperature; and relative humidity (the measurement of moisture in the air) can be checked by using a hygrometer.

In hot dry conditions paper will become brittle, and at the other extreme excessive moisture will promote mould growth. Constant changes in temperature and humidity will accelerate decay. Store material away from obvious sources of heat such as boilers, hot water pipes and direct sunlight, and ensure good ventilation to help eliminate stagnant air pockets. Good climatic conditions, together with regular cleaning of the room will also help prevent insect infestations. Where relative humidity is proving difficult to control, seek specialist advice. In certain circumstances it may be necessary to install either a humidifier or dehumidifier to correct the situation.


Exposure to both natural and artificial light will cause serious harm to books and documents. Not only will inks and colours fade but paper and binding materials will also deteriorate. Preferably the storage room should be windowless, with artificial light kept to the barest minimum with the items wrapped, boxed or put into cabinets to further exclude light. Using window curtains or blinds, and fitting ultra-violet absorbing films to windows and fluorescent lights can also help prevent light damage. (See separate section for displaying books and documents.)


Allow air to circulate freely around cupboards, plan chests and racks of shelving, by siting them at least 9 inches away from walls and providing a 6 inch clearance between the bottom shelf and the floor. Avoid any storage system which has sharp angles or projections which might cause damage and on no account keep books and documents on the floor where they might get damp or knocked. If wood is used, beware of woodworm.


The use of appropriate packaging methods and materials will ensure long term physical protection and provide a barrier to atmospheric pollution and light. All packaging products must be of archival quality and be free from acids, chemical impurities, harmful adhesives and additives which would otherwise lead to fading, colour loss, staining and structural decomposition of the documents they are intended to protect. Books should preferably be boxed, or at least covered in wrapping paper and secured with half-inch wide unbleached cotton tape before being stood upright on shelves. Provide adequate support at the sides using bookends where necessary and allow space so that books can be easily removed and replaced.

Bundles of folded documents should be opened out wherever possible, and stored flat, as repeated folding fragile and unfolding would speed their deterioration. Staples, clips, tags and pins cause damage and should be avoided where possible: rubber bands and string will cut into documents - use cotton tape instead. Use tissue and paper for interleaving, and making folders and envelopes to protect fragile documents.

Provide further protection for these and small groups of flat documents by first putting them into manilla folders (securing them with tape as above) and placing them into boxes. Allow air circulation within the box by not filling it too tightly. Bundles of documents should be covered with wrapping paper and similarly secured and boxed. Single documents whose text is stable can be kept in polyester sleeves. Documents bearing inks, colours and pigments that are in an unstable, flaky or powdery condition should be referred to a specialist for advice on their protection.

Large documents, maps and drawings should preferably be unfolded and unrolled, and kept in portfolios or stored in manilla or polyester pockets in drawers. Items too large to be stored flat should be rolled around the outside of a strong cardboard tube which is longer than the document, and which has been previously covered in a protective layer of paper. Cover the whole in wrapping paper, turn in the ends, secure with tape, and store horizontally.

Prints can be placed into manilla folders or polyester sleeves and kept in boxes. Polyester sleeves are also suitable for storing postcards.

Remember to seek specialist advice if there is any doubt about the suitability of storage accommodation or the appropriate protection methods and materials to use.

A list of suppliers of materials and equipment is available.

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