Books and the weather…time to reflect!



When it’s cold I tend to start to think about issues such as the Food bank debate, the gas bill, Elderly loneliness and winter mortality rates, and what it would be like to work at some remote Research Station in the icey north i.e Arctic. I also suddenly remember that I was going to invest in one of those super warm cosy coats for dog walking which I forgot about as soon as the temperature went up by 3 degrees.

I’m not going to talk about any of those things here, but suffice to say they are all close to my heart. Of course I’m going to talk about books and what happens to them in the cold.

I recently watched a Bear Grylls wild weekend whereby feeling ultimately challenged I heard Stephen Fry utter that should something happen to him he would like to leave all his First Edition Collections to his colleagues at Cambridge. This and other more frosty situations made me think about books and what they endure.

‘Temperature and humidity have a significant and lasting effect on books. Excessive levels of both can cause mold or mildew to grow on the books. If you see tiny, almost invisible insects inside one of your books as you are reading it, this indicates the presence of microscopic mildew particles. The little bugs live on mildew and are eating it out of your books.’

‘ Extremely low relative humidity, which can occur in winter in centrally heated buildings, may lead to desiccation and embrittlement of some materials.’

This seems only common sense, however, rather paradoxically, cold temperatures are used for storage of collections of books.  Cold storage with controlled humidity is sometimes advisable for remote storage or little-used materials. The significant climatic notion to remember here is rather like when treasures are lifted from the bottom of the ocean they are kept in seawater for preservation, when materials are taken out of cold storage, the radical, rapid temperature changes they experience may cause condensation on them and gradual acclimatization may be required in much the same way.

An outstanding need for the British Library was cold storage for, amongst other things, its cellulose acetate microfilm. British Library has in recent years had to deal with the problem of storage.

In summary, there is the problem of mildew, desiccation, embrittlement and condensation…and when you consider rare books and documents collections, this is a significant issue in the storage sphere and why books matter.

So many books so little space? You may want to reconsider the attic!


“thoughts from scarlettlibrarian…”


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