To reduce the amount of dust and dirt that accumulates on books and shelving, floors in book storage areas should be kept as clean as possible. Floors should be vacuumed regularly. Sweeping is discouraged because it tends to stir up and scatter dirt. Floors should be washed and carpets cleaned when needed. It is essential to take precautions that prevent splashing of books on lower shelves by cleaning agents. |
Keeping books clean significantly extends their useful life. Books should be cleaned on a regular basis, with the frequency of cleaning depending on how rapidly dust and dirt accumulate in book storage areas. Cleaning itself may damage fragile bindings, which may not be able to withstand the handling required to clean them. Judgment in deciding when and to what extent to clean books is necessary.
Organizing a cleaning project and the procedures for cleaning books and shelves will vary depending upon several factors. These factors include the physical condition of the books, the amount and type of soil to be removed (light layer of dust versus heavy accumulation of gritty dirt), the value of the books (are they valuable solely for the information they contain or do they have historic, artistic, or associational value as well?), and the scope of the cleaning to be undertaken (is cleaning ongoing to maintain every book in the library, or is it a limited project designed to clean only books in a particular area or collection?).
Shelves are best cleaned with a magnetic wiping cloth, which attracts and holds dust with an electrostatic charge. This type of cloth is sold commercially under brand names such as Dust Bunny and Preserve-It. Dust cloths that are chemically treated to hold dust, such as the One-Wipe, can be used to clean shelves but are not appropriate for cleaning books. Feather dusters only redistribute the dust and are not useful for cleaning shelves or books. Heavy dust should be removed with a vacuum designed to prevent recirculation of dust through the exhaust, such as one with a HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air) filter. Thick accumulations of dust and dirt may require that shelves be washed with a mild detergent. Careful consideration should be given to bringing water into book storage areas because of the risk of spillage and of raising the relative humidity in a confined area if many shelves are cleaned at one time. Shelves must be dried completely before reshelving books, especially if they have been cleaned with water. Fast-drying spray cleaning agents that do not require mixing with water may be preferable, but take care to shield surrounding items and shelves during spraying.
Bindings and text block edges can be cleaned with a magnetic wiping cloth. Magnetic cloths are recommended because they do not contain chemicals or other substances that could be left behind on books. If books are covered with a heavy layer of dust, vacuuming may be advisable. A soft brush attachment is recommended. Add a piece of cheesecloth or screen between the end of the hose and the brush attachment to prevent loose fragments of deteriorated bindings from being sucked into the vacuum. The suction of the vacuum may need to be decreased for the same reason. Avoid directly vacuuming books of artifactual or associational value. Instead, use a soft-bristled brush to sweep dust from the book into the vacuum nozzle. When cleaning books, it is important to hold them firmly closed to prevent dirt from slipping between the leaves. Book edges should be wiped or brushed away from the spine to avoid pushing dirt into the endcap or down into the spine of the binding. The top of the book, usually the dirtiest ara, should be cleaned first, then the rest of the book wiped or vacuumed. Dust cloths should be changed frequently. Cloths used to clean shelves should never be used to clean books.
Cleaning is usually most efficiently carried out by two-person teams using a book cart, cloths, and a vacuum. The teams work one shelf at a time from top to bottom. Books are removed in shelf order and placed on the cart, with a bookend to support them. The shelf is then cleaned. Acidic inserts, such as bookmarks, scraps of paper, and pressed flowers, can be removed from books so that acidity in the inserts does not migrate into pages and damage them. Their location within individual volumes can be noted if the collection has associational, historic, or similar significance. Paper clips and other damaging fasteners should be removed so that they do not stain or crease pages. Each book should be cleaned then returned to the shelf in order.
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