Another highlight in the winter clean recently was the chance to clean the books in the Great Hall book presses. They are a good few hundred years old and range in subjects from medical journals to memoirs. As they are produced mostly in Dutch and French, I was prevented from reading them by my lack of language skills. (I still struggle with English!) To be super safe when handling historic books, you can opt for a face mask. (no, not a wrinkle reducing mud-pack) This fits neatly over your mouth and nose to protect you from any mould spores that may be dislodged. (A side effect of wearing the mask is it makes you look like a late 80’s ‘Raver’ minus whistle and glow-sticks.)
The best way to remove a historic book from a shelf is to do the exact opposite of what you would naturally do. Never touch the top of the spine and pull back. This is one the most vulnerable area’s of a book because that’s exactly how it has been taken off the shelf for most of its life. There are a few different ways you can take down the book of your choice. You can reach to the back of the top of the book and gently ease it forward, or if you don’t have the room to get your hand in between the top of the book and the shelf, you can gently push back the books either side, so to expose an area to grip. For snug fitting books on a shelf you can go mad and use a combination!
When you have your chosen tome, carry ‘spine down’ and place in order on your nearby work area. If using a set-up table it should be covered in a soft dust sheet for protection. If they are taken down in order they can be replaced in order to avoid any befuddlement.