School Libraries

Importance of Early Preservation Education

The habits of years of improper handling, theft, or mutilation of library materials are difficult to break, but the attitudes that form those habits are shaped early in life. Children learn sharing and respect for each other’s property in their homes with family members and in school with their peers. This basic early training can carry over to their use of library materials. The school librarian can work with teachers and administrators to ensure that specific attention is given to classroom and library instruction in proper book handling.

School library staff have the opportunity to integrate creative, entertaining training into story hours, demonstrations, displays and library assignments such as:

  • Book and paper making projects
  • Damaged “scarred” book displays
  • Making dust jackets for library books
  • School Career Day events
  • Parent educational materials

Preservation education at the school-age level is focused on seeing that young library users start off in school and at their local public libraries understanding how to take care of both their own books and library books. These young school and public library users are the future customers of the college, university, and special collections. Everyone has a vested interest in their receiving preservation education programs at an early age. The first person who has to learn good preservation technique is the school librarian. Students are notoriously good at mimicry, and what they see the adult do is what they will learn. Always model good behavior.

Basic Do’s, Don’ts and Why’s 

What To Do Why
Make sure your hands are clean. Dirt is hard to remove. An unattractive book seems less deserving of careful handling.
Gently set the crease in when you open the book. The book will open better and the binding will remain flexible and not crack.
When reading aloud, cup the book in your palm instead of doubling back the cover. The cover will stay attached to the book.
Use a slip of paper to mark a page. Objects, such as pencils, are too bulky and split the binding. Paper clips tear the pages and rust. Folded page corners break off.
Mark a book and close it when you stop reading. Don’t flop it face down or set an object on top of it. The binding will crack, and the pages can become soiled.
Keep pens and markers away from books It’s too easy to accidentally mark the book and very hard to remove the marks.
Take notes on paper instead of underlining or highlighting in a library book. What is important to you may not be important to the next reader. It is very hard to read a book that someone else has marked up.
Keep books away from pets. A puppy can destroy a book in just a few minutes. Some books are made with glues that have attractive scents, and even well behaved dogs can forget their manners. Chewed books are hard to repair.
Keep books away from babies and toddlers. Give them durable board books instead. Babies like to chew on books. Toddlers have difficulty turning pages without tearing them and will use any handy crayon or marker to adorn books. Make sure that small children have books strong enough to withstand their attention and make reading an altogether time.
Leave repairs to the experts. Adhesive tape turns brown with age and stains the paper. Libraries have special repair methods that last a long time. Never use duct tape or electrical tape or any other household material to repair a library book. You will cause even more damage.
Use a photocopier when you want to keep something from a library book or magazine. Torn out pages take time and money to replace, and the binding of the book is weakened by page loss. Often more pages are loosened and will fall out soon.
Keep food and drink away from books. This includes water and coffee cups. Books are easily soiled and food residue attracts vermin.
Keep books dry in wet weather. Have a plastic bag available. Don’t read library books in the bathtub. Wet books quickly become mildewed. Mildew spreads through books like the plague and presents a serious health risk to some people.
Use bookends When books lean, their bindings are torqued and weakened. A book that is not shelved properly can pull itself out of its binding.
If books are too tall to stand upright, shelve them so their spine is down. If the spine is shelved up, the textblock hangs unsupported and will tear itself out of the binding.
Photocopy gently. Don’t smash the binding onto the glass. A smashed binding can break, and the pages may fall out.
Keep books away from open windows and heaters Books are sensitive to humidity and heat and their life span can be shortened by exposure to environmental extremes.
To transport lots of books, use a box or book truck. Books are heavy and often slippery. When they fall their bindings can break.
Grasp the book by the middle of the spine, not the head cap, to remove it from the shelf. The headcap will tear and the spine may come off.


Helmer, Normandy S. “Selling Preservation in School Libraries.” In Promoting Preservation Awareness in Libraries: A Sourcebook for Academic, Public, School, and Special Collections. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1997, Table 4.1, pp.133-134.