I’ll admit, when putting my books in self-storage, I have always just bought some book boxes from the facility or from Costco, packed my books neatly in them (Tetrising some in), then locked them away in my unit. I’ve never had a problem doing it this way. When I’ve retrieved my books, they’ve always been in good shape.
Of course, I may have gotten lucky. I’ve mostly needed self-storage in temperate areas or areas with moderate to low humidity, and most of my books are not old collectibles. There’s much more to storing books and keeping them in great condition than I realized, and I’ve gotten lucky that my books have done fairly well.
So, you have a large book collection and have decided to keep many of your books in self-storage. Before you move them in, you will need to prepare and box them.
Unless you live in an area where temperatures are usually under 70°F and humidity is between 30% and 50%, you will need to rent a climate controlled unit. While temperature is a concern, though, extremes in humidity are the most damaging to books. With high humidity, mold starts growing between pages. With very low humidity, pages dry out and become brittle.
When you box your books, purchase acid-free and lignin-free boxes. Those old books with yellow pages we’re all familiar with are that way because of acid in the paper, and while most books are printed on acid-free paper now, there’s no reason to pack them in boxes that contain acid in their construction. Buy acid-free packing paper as well. Since books are heavy, get relatively small boxes.
Plastic bins may seem like a good idea, but like plastic bags, these can trap moisture inside, even if you don’t realize it’s there.
Make sure that your books are clean. Whenever possible, pack books of the same size together.
First, put one or two sheets of packing paper in the bottom of the box, then put in your books, squared with the sides of the box, and face up. Alternately, if all the books have the same cover size, you can pack them spine down. If your box will contain books in a variety of sizes, pack the larger books first. Don’t pack the boxes too tightly, and use crunched packing paper to fill in the remaining space.
Do not pack books with other items, as this can damage them. Books are better off packed together.
When putting the boxes in storage, avoid boxes tipping by setting them squarely on top of each other. This is another reason to fill in the space in the boxes with crunched paper, to prevent empty spaces that can cause stacked boxes to become uneven.
Pack boxes no higher than shoulder level, which will make them easier to lift when you’re ready to retrieve them.
Even in climate controlled self-storage facilities, the ground level may be vulnerable to flooding. This rarely happens, but to mitigate the threat of water damage, first put wooden pallets on the floor of your unit, and stack the boxes on them. Visit your unit every month or so to make sure there has been no damage to the boxes, and therefore to your books, and to wipe away dust.
Using these suggestions, you’ll be able to keep your books stored and in great condition for years to come.