Emanuel Haldeman-Julius : Pocket Series and the Little Blue Books

Preservation and Care of Little Blue Books:
Words of Advice from Collection Curators

The age and fragility of the Haldeman-Julius Pocket Series and Little Blue Books, coupled with the voluminous inventory collectors can acquire, poses some non-trivial challenges in terms of care and preservation. Wrappers and blocks were generally made from shockingly cheap materials, seriously prone to fading & discoloration, wear & tear, creasing, mildew, mold, and an assortment of other ailments unbecoming a vintage collectible. It was with all this in mind that haldeman-julius.org solicited some frank advice from a select group of specialists: the curators of some of the most important Haldeman-Julius collections in America.

Before we get down to details, we'd first like to thank those individuals kind enough to contribute their advice:

Without their generous contributions we might have had nothing more to offer than a few links and some personal advice.

Be it one or many

Unanimously, and with no surprise, everyone we contacted recommended the use of acid-free or alkaline envelopes to secure individual booklets. These materials are fantastic for minimizing wear and tear, as well as helping to safeguard the item from a variety of external influences.

Acid-free envelopes also offer additional rigidity to the booklet, providing some protection against folds and creases that could occur during handling or organizational tasks. For some booklets, particularly those under 32 pages in length, this may not be enough. To this end, Julie Herrada also recommends "using an acid-free stiffening board if needed for added support", as is the case with some items in the Labadie Collection.

The care and consideration relished on any particular booklet should not just be a matter of appropriate enveloping and support. The condition and state of the book block itself may warrant some attention and response as well. Mary L. Hester provided us with some valuable insight to this point, and suggests using "Tissue placed over any spots ... to keep it from getting on the opposing page." Wise advice.

Boxing 'em up

The answer here is simple: acid-free storage boxes, always. There are advantages to leaving most books out on shelves where air circulation is ample, and where they can benefit from the support of their neighbours. With Pocket Series and Little Blue Books, however, their fragile nature and extreme sensitivity to light, dust, and other atmospheric issues makes the safety of a good, solid box more beguiling.

Best practice is to store your booklets spine down, so that pressure rests against the strongest part of the booklet. This is certainly imperative if booklets are not in envelopes, but is a valuable practice even when they are.

Location, location, location

Most of us cannot offer the kind of climate-controlled environment in our homes that public collections so greatly benefit from. That, however, should hardly stop us from giving our collections the best environment we can. On the issue of location, these curators all agreed on two points: attics are undesirable, and basements are even worse. Lynne M. Thomas put it even more bluntly, "Attics (too hot and not humid enough) and Basements (too cool and too humid) are terrible places to store paper-based materials, and can hasten their self-destruction through accelerated browning and making them brittle, or creating an environment for a mold outbreak."

In selecting an appropriate storage location for your collection, one goal is clear: consistency in temperature and humidity. This basically rules out storing them near or against outside-facing walls; an interior closet would seem best. General wisdom amongst book collectors puts the ideal temperature for book storage at 16°C to 18°C (60°F to 65°F). Relative humidity is considered safe between 40% and 55%, with 50% considered ideal. We've heard nothing that would contradict these numbers from Haldeman-Julius collectors.

Atmospheric thermometers and hygrometers are easily found in many large hardware stores and scientific supply shops, and it is easy to sample the conditions in and around a potential storage site prior to moving your collection. Take several samples at random times over a few days (including the middle of the night if possible) to ensure the area offers the desired consistency. Once your collection is in its proper home, get in the practice of taking samples a couple of times a month to ensure conditions haven't changed.

While appropriate temperature and humidity are of paramount importance, there are additional considerations worth noting. Bright light, particularly sunlight, can hasten the aging process greatly, and cause significant fading. Dusty environments can introduce a wealth of airborne nastiness guaranteed to soil and stain these delicate wrappers. Smoking around these books can quickly cause yellowing to wraps and book block edges. In short: clean air and darkness are always the best policy.

Handle with care

The less you handle your books, the more likely they are to remain in good condition. Finger oils, airborne particles, and material stress can all easily cause damage to these little gems. But collecting wouldn't be much fun if our books remained completely unappreciated, so our passion is bound to get the best of us from time to time. It is a smart plan to avoid impulsive romps through your booklets, favouring a more tactical approach instead. A solid and verbose cataloging of your collection, noting details like copyright date, title page styles, number of pages, imprint variations, printing errors, etc can save a lot of potential interaction in the long run. We also suggest keeping a detailed log on the things you need to investigate regarding a particular booklet and wait until several have piled up so they can be addressed in a single pass. When you do have to handle them, Timothy Binga gave valuable caution: "If you must handle at all, cotton linen gloves to protect you from dirt and dust and the books from finger oils and other contaminants."

Pest control

Mildew and mold can pose the most significant problems to Pocket Series and Little Blue Book collectors. Given the fact that the most common source for these booklets are the attics and basements of hundred year old houses these pests are far more commonplace than anyone might like to imagine. When acquiring new books it is vital that they be inspected from top to bottom for any evidence of infestation.

Under the right conditions mildew and mold can spread like wildfire, damaging not only "patient zero" but all of the books in proximity. Once booklets are affected it is impossible to remedy the problem without causing additional damage. Thus, the only sound advice is a strict policy of quarantine. When purchasing new books it makes sense to keep them isolated from your regular collection. Isolation may even need to be tackled by degree, with acquisitions grouped together based on likelihood of threat.

The practice we recommend is to have two levels of quarantine: one for books that look great, and one for books that are suspicious. These books should be kept far away from the regular collection, and from each other. They will need to be inspected regularly to see if any changes occur. Measuring the size of suspicious areas is valuable, as is taking photographs - anything that will allow you to determine if conditions are worsening. The books that look great can probably be merged with your regular collection in a matter of weeks. Those in the suspicious pile need more careful and extensive evaluation. In the end one always has to ask if the risk is worthwhile: when in doubt, favour caution.

Books that are actively habouring mildew and/or mold are a different matter entirely. Honestly, unless they are of staggering interest or extremely rare you are best to dispose of them immediately. If you just can't bring yourself to do that, at least keep them far, far away from the rest of your collection - and any other books for that matter. Moisture will aggreviate the problem, so keeping their environment dry and cool is the best way to limit potential spread.

There are some ways to further limit, control, or kill these pests. While the curators we spoke with made no such suggestions, we have heard less authoritative sources hazard a couple of techniques. Some folks recommend adding a few whole cloves to your bookshelves and/or storage boxes, as this herb has antibacterial qualities and absorbs moisture. Supposedly you must replace the cloves every month or so to keep the benefits. We've never tried this so can't testify as to its effectiveness. A technique we have applied with some success is to expose the books to direct sunlight and outside air for a period of several hours. This is certainly an extreme measure, and not without damaging effects of its own - but compared to a mildew or mold outbreak it can be a reasonable alternative.

Round Up

The above has tried to provide some insight and depth to the issues discussed. What's below is a summary of the cold hard facts:

External Resources

Library of Congress Preservation : Collections Care

The Library of Congress provides a great collection of publications from their Preservation Directorate, full of sound advice on caring for books and general ephemera.

Conservation OnLine: Resources for Conservation Professionals

CoOL, brought to you by the Preservation Department of Stanford University Libraries and Academic Information Resources offers great information on conservation of library, archives and museum materials.

The American Institute for Conservation of Historic & Artistic Works

The AIC is the only national membership organization in the United States focussed on the preservation of cultural material. While there is some interesting reading material on their site, their best resources revolve around finding practicing conservators who can lend advice or help manage public and private collections.

Your Old Books

This guide produced by the The Rare Books and Manuscripts Section of the Association of College and Research Libraries can be a great starting point for people embarking on book collecting for the first time.

Gaylord Brothers Library Supplies & Archival Solutions

A reliable and often-cited source for archival materials including acid-free or alkaline buffered enclosures, storage boxes, display panels, etc.

Conservation Resources International LLC.

Another reliable and often-cited source for archival materials - some of which are available through them exclusively.