Let us now consider the important questions which involve the care, the protection, and the preservation of the books.
Every librarian or book owner should be something more than a custodian of the books in his collection. He should also exercise perpetual vigilance with regard to their safety and condition. The books of every library are beset by dangers and by enemies. Some of these are open and palpable; others are secret, illusive, little suspected, and liable to come unlooked for and without warning. Some of these enemies are impersonal and immaterial, but none the less deadly; others are personally human in form, but most inhuman in their careless and brutal treatment of books. How far and how fatally the books of many libraries have been injured by these ever active and persistent enemies can never be adequately told. But we may point out what the several dangers are which beset them, and how far the watchful care of the librarian and his assistants may fore-stall or prevent them.
One of the foremost of the inanimate enemies of books is dust. In some libraries the atmosphere is dust-laden, to a degree which seems incredible until you witness its results in the deposits upon books, which soil your fingers, and contaminate the air you breathe, as you brush or blow it away. Peculiarly liable to dust are library rooms located in populous towns, or in business streets, and built close to the avenues of traffic. Here, the dust is driven in at the windows and doors by every breeze that blows. It is an omnipresent evil, that cannot be escaped or very largely remedied. As preventive measures, care should be taken not to build libraries too near the street, but to have ample front and side yards to isolate the books as far as may be consistent with convenient access. Where the library is already located immediately on the street, a subscription for sprinkling the thoroughfare with water, the year round, would be true economy.
But, aside from these afflictions of dust, in its most aggravated form, every library and every room in any building is subject to its persistent visitations. Wherever carpets or rugs cover the floors, there dust has an assured abiding-place, and it is diffused throughout the apartment in impalpable clouds, at every sweeping of the floors. Hence it would be wise to adopt in public libraries a floor-covering like linoleum, or some substance other than woolen, which would be measurably free from dust, while soft enough to deaden the sound of feet upon the floors. Even with this preventive precaution, there will always be dust enough, and too much for comfort, or for the health of the books. Only a thorough dusting, carried on if possible daily, can prevent an accumulation of dust, at once deleterious to the durability of the books, and to the comfort both of librarians and readers. Dust is an insidious foe, stealing on its march silently and unobserved, yet, however impalpable in the atmosphere of a library, it will settle upon the tops of every shelf of books, it will penetrate their inner leaves, it will lodge upon the bindings, soiling books and readers, and constituting a perpetual annoyance.
It is not enough to dust the tops of the books periodically; a more full and radical remedy is required, to render library books presentable. At no long intervals, there should be a thorough library cleaning, as drastic and complete as the house-cleaning which neat housewives institute twice a year, with such wholesome results. The books are to be taken down from the shelves, and subjected to a shaking-up process, which will remove more of the dust they have absorbed than any brush can reach. To do this effectually, take them, if of moderate thickness, by the half-dozen at a time from the shelf, hold them loosely on a table, their fronts downward, backs uppermost, then with a hand at either side of the little pile, strike them smartly together a few times, until the dust, which will fly from them in a very palpable cloud, ceases to fall. Then lay them on their ends, with the tops uppermost on the table, and repeat the concussion in that posture, when you will eliminate a fresh crop of dust, though not so thick as the first. After this, let each volume of the lot be brushed over at the sides and back with a soft (never stiff) brush, or else with a piece of cotton or woolen cloth, and so restored clean to the shelves. While this thorough method of cleansing will take time and pains, it will pay in the long run. It will not eliminate all the dust (which in a large collection is a physical impossibility) but it will reduce it to a minimum. Faithfully carried out, as a periodical supplement to a daily dusting of the books as they stand on the shelves, it will immensely relieve the librarian or book-owner, who can then, (and then only) feel that he has done his whole duty by his books.
Another dangerous enemy of the library book is damp, already briefly referred to. Books kept in any basement room, or near any wall, absorb moisture with avidity; both paper and bindings becoming mildewed, and often covered with blue mould. If long left in this perilous condition, sure destruction follows; the glue or paste which fastens the cover softens, the leather loses its tenacity, and the leaves slowly rot, until the worthless volumes smell to heaven. Books thus injured may be partially recovered, before the advanced stage of decomposition, by removal to a dry atmosphere, and by taking the volumes apart, drying the sheets, and rebinding-a very expensive, but necessary remedy, provided the books are deemed worth preserving.
But a true remedy is the preventive one. No library should ever be kept, even in part, in a basement story, nor should any books ever be located near the wall of a building. All walls absorb, retain, and give out moisture, and are dangerous and oft-times fatal neighbors to books. Let the shelves be located at right angles to every wall-with the end nearest to it at least twelve to eighteen inches removed, and the danger will be obviated.