How To Store Books In Storage | Expert Guide

Nothing compares to the enjoyment of relaxing and losing yourself in a good book. And even with the increasing popularity of eBooks, many people are still purchasing, collecting and reading books the ‘old fashioned’ way. But books can take up a fair amount of space, and too many of them can lead to clutter. The solution? Self-storage! Here is a guide on how to properly prepare and pack your library collection, and how to store books in storage.  

1. Preparing your books

The damage commonly suffered by books in storage due to insects, dirt, dust, mould and poor packing are mostly preventable.

 In terms of how to store books, they should be clean and dry before they are packed. Residual dust and dirt can transfer to other books and lead to staining or soiling, so they should be cleaned using a soft, chemical-free cloth. To clean covers (after removing the dust jacket if applicable), hold the book tightly shut to avoid getting dust between the pages, and wipe from the spine outwards towards the edges of the pages. The brush attachment on your vacuum cleaner can also be used to clean the book’s edges.

Insects can wreak havoc on paper-based materials in storage, so they should be carefully checked for evidence of infestation. Unhatched insect eggs resemble poppy seeds (their colour varies from black to pale), and are often hidden in the gutters between a book’s pages. These should be removed with a soft brush and discarded. 

Books that have been stored or shelved for long periods can start to smell musty. Books packed away while damp are also likely to attract mildew, so should be aired in a well-ventilated spot for at least 24 hours. Mouldy books should be treated by a professional conservator, as there are health risks associated with inhaling mould spores if you attempt this yourself.

You should also check your books for bookmarks, paperclips or dried flowers, which can damage books over time through creasing or staining. Any dust jackets should then be replaced, as they will protect a book from tears, scratches, dirt, dust and scuffing while in storage. 

 Wrapping books (especially rare or limited edition versions) is an easy way to provide extra padding and protection. However, avoid newspaper (as ink can damage books) and plastic bags, plastic wrap and foil (which trap moisture and can lead to mildew and mould growth). Leather-bound books, if packed side-by-side, can also stick together if subjected to enough moisture, and powdery and degraded leather bindings can also stain other books. As a precaution, wrap books in good-quality archival or 100% rag content paper. It will prevent yellowing, is durable, and can safely be used for preservation and long-term storage.

2. Packing your books 

Ideally, books should be packed in smaller boxes as larger ones may be difficult to move safely. Bigger boxes also give books more room to shift, which can damage covers and spines. Boxes should be clean, durable, dry and able to be closed, and not previously used to hold food as residue and odours will attract pests. They should also be acid-free and of high quality to slow down deterioration. Cardboard boxes specially designed to hold paper are more breathable and will allow for evaporation to reduce the risk of mould damage.

It is recommended you organise books into categories with boxes labelled accordingly. Place your largest, heaviest books on the bottom lying flat, one on top of the other, and with spines and fore-edges (the front edge opposite the spine) alternating. Small and medium-sized books can then be packed on top, either lying flat or standing upright. Finish with smaller, lighter books packed tightly on top, so they don’t collapse or fall over.

Books stored upright should be packed securely enough to prevent them from leaning at an angle and cause them to lose their shape. However, they should also not be crammed together in a way that makes unpacking difficult and subjects them to excessive pressure. This can cause books to warp and pages to bend.

Pack boxes so that some air can circulate and avoid overloading boxes as bending books can cause them to lose their shape while in storage. Carefully seal boxes with sturdy acid-free packing tape, and take an inventory of your books — including which books are in which boxes. This will help you keep track of them, and ensure you have an insurance record in case of damage.

3. Storing your books

A dry, clean, well-lit, insulated and stable storage environment is vital for preventing damage to books in storage. Boxes should be stored off the ground — ideally on blocks or palettes — to aid circulation. They should also not be stacked against exterior walls, as moisture can be absorbed or transferred from outside and increase their vulnerability.

Damp conditions can also encourage insect eggs to hatch, and mould spores to germinate and bloom — both significant causes of damage to stored books. Mothballs and insecticides are also not recommended, as they can have harmful effects on stored material. 

The storage environment should also be stable and controlled and books not subjected to extremes in humidity or temperature. This will greatly reduce the effects of mould growth and prevent books from wilting and yellowing. 

In terms of how to properly store books, your storage unit should also have the appropriate security measures in place to allow personal access to your books. This is particularly important if books hold sentimental or monetary value. Any building maintenance issues should be dealt with quickly and effectively, and you should check on your books regularly to ensure the conditions remain optimised.


  1. 2020, What’s the Best Way to Store Books? Real Simple magazine
  2. 2015, Packing and storing books, State Library Victoria