29 July 2012

Caring for used books

If you’re anything  like me, you think used books are amazing and perfect for your budget. If you’re anything like some of my friends, you’re afraid to have used books in your home because “you don’t know where they’ve been.”

Either way, sometimes we find used books in our homes either from online, local stores, or from friends. Sometimes, either for the book or your own sake, these books need a little attention and care before you stick them on your shelves and step away. In my amateur years of working with used books I thought I’d just write an article on some ideas to help my readers, and more importantly those friends of mine who seriously need to get over their phobia.

Damage to Pages and Covers

Once a cover, page, or spine is creased, it sort of stays that way. The best you can do is to keep it flat and be wary of the pages so they don’t bend again. When putting the book on your shelf, try not to shove it in precarious spots and give it some goot support on either side.
Dog-eared pages… it’s like a dirty word to me. I hate when I get a book and the pages have been dog-eared. This is something else you can’t really fix, but it you avoid folding it or catching it while reading you’ll at least take a lot of the bend out of the page and it should flatten out somewhat.

Library Copies

Library markings are the worse. Sometimes I wish books that I can’t see, i.e.  books I’ve bought online, were better advertised as library books. I sometimes can’t believe the abuse a book goes through just being a library book.

Markings are usually permanent. Unless they are in pencil, which you can erase, they’re staying there. However, I once purchased a book I wanted as a collection and I wanted desperately to remove the library markings. I don’t know if this was a good idea, even though it worked, but I took some  fine sandpaper and eventually was able to fade the markings around the edges of the pages.

There are a lot of products on the market for getting rid of goo, and in this case library goo. A lot of libraries still have the silly pocket in the front. (My library prints off a ticket and sticks it in the pages. No goo, no mess.) “Goo removers” will help you take off things like these pockets without damaging the pages.

Dust covers are alright… when they’re in good condition. I keep them on when I want to protect the book and when I think the dust cover isn’t so awful it takes away from the look of the book. If the dust cover is a little dirty, a damp cloth or mild cleaning supply, such as a glass cleaner, should clear the plastic up well. Minor tares and rips, if they don’t turn you off so horribly, can be fixed with tape. If the dust jacket is in very bad condition, you can replace it. Some places online offer dust-jackets for sale. Or, if you’re like me, just ditch the dust-cover and take good care of the book. Honestly, I don’t use them if I don’t need them, since they’re mine now and not going to people’s houses all the time.

Smelly Books

I am not the only person who shoves their noses into their books. Some books just smell amazing… but then there are some books that make me nauseas just reading them. For example, I recently received a copy of a book that smelled something akin to tobacco and mold, so I didn’t feel too excited to sit there and devour pages.

Baking soda in a zip-lock bag, along with your book, can eliminate odors that have become a part of the book. If you still feel your book has a lingering smell of something bad, then you can afterwards put your book in another bag with a mild air freshener.

Sometimes the smell is an indication of mold or mildew, which really must be eradicated. Air your book out and clean the covers and other sensible pages with a cloth and some solution. All books, old or new, paperbacks and hardcovers, even books that you have had in your collection for years are at risk for this. Remember that books should always be in a cool, dry place, and that keeping a close eye on your collection is the first step in prevention.

Other Marks

Pencil marks are really easy to get rid of. Just use a gentile eraser, such as a rubber one, so not to harm the paper. Pencil marks are common from previous owners, and some places like to pencil in their prices on the inside pages.

Stickers can be fickly. It all depends on the type of sticker, the strength of the glue, and what the sticker is attached to. Some stickers are easy to remove, because they’re on a sturdy cover, and you can peel the sticker off without damaging the cover at all. Always use a little rubbing alcohol to help ease the sticker away. Some stickers are just… stuck there, and need some TLC and patience. Some can be terribly stubborn. There are still even more stickers on the inside of the cover, like barcodes or “please don’t steal me” sensors that I would say remove at your own discretion. Sometimes they can be easy, other times there’s no point.


Sometimes it’s just not worth it to remove a mark. If it was meant to be permanent, it usually is. Consider if they trouble to go through with removing the mark, or whatever the case, compared to what it might do to the book. You might want to remove that sticker or that library mark, but you might severely damage the book in the process

When buying books online, pay close attention to the sellers rating and details. The more details the better, don’t take risks. I’d rather pay a little more for a book when I know what’s up with a condition than otherwise. Also, sometimes you can be surprised with a good condition of a book. Recently I purchased a book that was listed as borderline acceptable, but it turned out to be a library copy in very good condition that I was surprised.

This article is more for those people who buy a stack of used books for a cheap price and just want to give them some love. There are much more in depth articles out there for people who buy the expensive books and want to treat them like adopted children.

I hope this has given you a little confidence in used books. They really are sexy and forgetting about their awesome is unfortunate. Of course, the best think  you can do for a used book is to read it!
My list is admittedly amateur, but if you have anything to add please let us know. Maybe you do something different when a used book comes into your house, like celebrate, or hose it down with hand sanitizer.


  1. I wish that I had know about that baking soda trick before. I have won book that were ARCs and have thrown them away because of cigarette smoke. I have asthma and I was unable to read them. Thank you for your tips.

    1. You are so welcome, :) I don't have asthma, but I am extremely sensitive to cigarette smoke, so I know where you are coming from.


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