How to Create a Home Library

Book Care: Protecting Books from Mice, Mold and Moisture

This guy may look friendly, but he will eat your book.
Michael Carroll/Photodisc/Getty Images

Do you devour books quickly? You're not the only one. Some insects love books, but not for a good story. Silverfish are hungry for glue and paper, and like the worst bullies, they hang out in dark corners and come out at night. Cockroaches leave a telltale brown liquid across the pages of a book when they haven't devoured its paper and bindings. Bookworms are not just those readers that have their nose in a book all the time. The more dangerous kind will tunnel through the book, eat the pages and lay eggs in it. Book lice thrive in dark dusty corners where they can eat book paste, glue and fungus. Termites are attracted to wooden bookshelves and, once there, find delicious paper as well. Rodents including mice and rats also love to eat books.

Once you identify an infestation, isolate the affected books. In some cases, you can seal the books in plastic bags and freeze them to kill the insects. Keeping your library free of excess moisture and dust will help to prevent an attack by these insects and vermin.


Controlling moisture and dust doesn't just keep away the book bugs though. Moisture in the air will also promote the growth of fungus and mold. Mold develops at temperatures greater than 70 degrees Fahrenheit (21 degrees Celsius), and with 65 percent relative humidity [source: Ellis]. Dehumidifiers will suck excess moisture out of the air, moisture that could otherwise lead to loose bindings, stains and mildew. Oppositely, too little humidity can dry out books, so use a humidifier in the drier winter months. Dust is also a magnet for moisture and mildew, so periodically dusting the tops of books will keep them clean. In addition to a humidifier, you also might need a fan to keep the library well ventilated. Books should be stored away from radiators and kept in a room between 60 degrees Fahrenheit and 70 degrees Fahrenheit (16 degrees Celsius and 21 degrees Celsius). Air conditioners and fans are fine to use to keep the temperature down. Extreme heat will damage books; if heat occurs in a room with low humidity, the fibers in the books will dehydrate, turning the pages brittle. In combination with high humidity, heat creates ideal growing conditions for mold.

As we mentioned in the last section, lighting can damage books because it leads to bleaching, fading and eventual deterioration. Natural lighting is the most dangerous. If your library has windows, draw the blinds or curtains to minimize injury. Limiting the intensity of light and duration of exposure will help to preserve the books.

Ready to start lining some shelves with your beloved books? Turn the page for some helpful links on setting up your home library.

Related HowStuffWorks Articles

More Great Links


  • ­Ellis, Estelle, Caroline Seebohm, and Christopher Simon Sykes. "At Home with Books." Carol Southern Books. 1995.
  • Goering, Matt. "Books Need Homes Too." Service Magic. (March 13, 2008)
  • Library of Congress. "Jefferson's Legacy: A Brief History of the Library of Congress." (March 13, 2008)
  • LibraryThing. "LibraryThing: About." (March 13, 2008)
  • Monticello. "A Library of America: Exploring the West from Monticello." (March 13, 2008)
  • Sahoo, Jyotshna. "Preservation of Library Materials: Some Preventative Measures." Orissa Historical Research Journal. Vol. XLVII, no. 1. 2004. (March 13, 2008)
  • Stanton, Lucia C. "Thomas Jefferson and Books: Some Highlights." Monticello Research Department. January 1993. (March 13, 2008)
  • The Straight Dope. "What's so great about the Dewey Decimal System?" Jan. 31, 2006. (March 13, 2008)