by Tim Geers
With 80% of Americans saying that they read for fun at least occasionally, when we move, we are often moving books. Maybe it is just a few paperbacks that we haven’t had a chance to read yet or perhaps there are much loved volumes from childhood that we can’t bear to part with or, if you are like me, you have a substantial personal library. Once you have decided to move, there are a few steps to take, especially when moving a large collection of books.
1. Determine which books you want to keep and which ones you can part with
In the library world, when we go through book collections and remove books that are no longer relevant (the information is dated, the book is in bad condition, etc), we call this weeding. Start with going through your collection (whether 10 books or 1000) and make decisions about whether or not to actually move the book to your new home. A single book doesn’t weigh a lot, but when you have 50 boxes of books, all of the suddenly you are paying serious money or time or muscle power to move them.
So, what do you do with the books that you decide not to keep? You’ve got some options. If the books are in good condition (spine isn’t cracked and you haven’t bent down pages or marked it up), you could take the books to a resaler like Half Price Books and get a few dollars for them. If you don’t want to go through the process of reselling your books, your local library typically has a “Friends Of” organization that does a book sale to benefit the library once or twice a year. Take your books to the library and tell the circulation desk librarian that your books are for donation. They’ll usually take them and store them with other boxes and bags of books until that “Friends Of” group can go through them and tag them. You can also offer up the books you have weeded to friends and loved ones before taking what’s left to the local library or goodwill.
Personal Story: My collection was 1500 books and I decided that I really needed to cut that down by at least a third. I hired a friend who was good at data-entry to help me weed out my collection because I keep a catalog in Librarything. I put books aside and she took them out of my catalog. Hiring her sped up the process significantly for me. She ended up taking many of my books. For the rest, I took them to Half Price Books which got me enough money for a tank of gas and lunch on the way to my new home halfway across the country.
2. Pack in small boxes
You will NOT want to pack your books into large boxes. Singly, a book often doesn’t weigh a lot, especially if it is a paperback, but once you get a lot of them in one place, the weight adds up. Use a smaller sized box that you are comfortable with. Pack the books in tightly, but not so tightly that covers start to bulge. If there are gaps, say an area that is too small for a book but that is too large to leave alone because of books shifting in the box, then you will need to fill that area. I do not recommend newspaper. While the paper is cheap, so is the ink. The ink will rub off on your hands and it will rub off on your books. If you have a roll of plain butcher type paper, you could crumple that up or use bubblewrap.
I do not recommend packing peanuts, especially the kind that biodegrade. Biodegradeable peanuts usually disintegrate in moisture and moving containers or trucks are not typically temperature controlled. Too much humidity and the peanuts will start to decrease in structural integrity and you will have a gritty and powdery mess at the least and goo at the worst depending on whether or not your boxes get wet.
Do not fill a box with all hard cover books. It will be too heavy. Instead, use a mix of hardcover and softcover books in order to balance the load in each box a little more easily. You will want to tape the bottom and top flaps in three places (left, right, and center) to increase stability. There are other ways to tape boxes too.
Personal Story: I didn’t start out packing my boxes very well. As I packed, I made stacks of boxes, like you do. Two days after I started making stacks, one of the stacks collapsed under the weight of the boxes on top of it. The box collapsed because I had left too much room in the box because I was afraid of making it too heavy. At dinner, there was a large crash. We all looked at each other and once I realized what it was, I sheepishly muttered “oops” and we went back to dinner.
3. Move important books yourself
If you have expensive or heirloom books, you will more than likely not want to transport these in a moving container or truck. Regardless of which method of transportation you take, you will want to evaluate these books for how fragile they are (note that I recommend only doing the test with two folds). If the pages seem to tear very easily or the spine is crumbling, you will definitely want to move these books very gently. You will probably want to wrap each book individually in bubblewrap and make sure that these books are packed very snugly in the box.
Personal Story: My first Master’s degree focused on Victorian literature and so I had a bookcase worth of research materials, several of them over 100 years old. These books were in good shape for the most part. I dusted each one carefully and then wrapped the oldest books in bubblewrap. The books that had more value traveled with me in my car but the rest went into the shipping container. The books in the car and the container came through just fine, but I definitely took extra care in packing them.
4. Make lists of what’s in each box by genre
While you could create a manifest for each box, this would be extremely time consuming. You are better off making a notation about which genres or whatever other categorization method you use, is in the box, and then move on to the next box.
Personal Story: I numbered my boxes and kept a manifest based on number. That way, I knew roughly what was in each box (Where are the forks? I know I packed the shampoo…). Book boxes were numbered as well and the listing usually only had the genre or two that was in the box.
5. Be ready to fix bookshelves
Unless your bookcases are of solid construction, there is more than likely going to be some damage when they come out of a truck or shipping container. Have a hammer at the ready to renail the backing of bookcases back in.
Personal Story: I had to re-hammer all of the nails on my IKEA bookcases. That said, the bookcases came through with minimal damage. I taped together the shelves after removing them from the cases. The only negative to this is that I used duct tape, which left a stick residue. Next time around, I will use packing tape.
Frequently Asked Questions:
What should you do if your books get wet?
First, don’t panic. Look at the books carefully.
Are they getting moldy? If they are, then discarding them is a very good idea. If it is an heirloom that has gotten wet and is molding, there are several companies that can salvage the book. Beware however that this will be expensive! (See here for a list – you will want to scroll down for the national list). If the book is of the kind with shiny paper and lots of pictures and illustrations, you can try to dry it out, but this type of paper often glues itself together when wet and is typically not salvageable. If the books are wet but mold has not yet begun to grow, stand the book up on its bottom edge and fan the pages out so that the book can air dry. Have fans gently moving air around and if you can, run air conditioning and a dehumidifier to help draw out the moisture. It will take several days for a book to dry. Once dry, the pages will be wavy and the book will probably never lay flat again. If you can, having the book sit under some bricks, or other heavy objects, will help flatten them out.
What should you do if expensive or heirloom book is damaged?
Before your move, take pictures of these books. Second, if possible, these books should travel with you in your car rather than being shipped. The older the book, the more fragile it will be, typically. Third, if the book is damaged, take a picture of the damage. Look at your shipping agreement with the company you went with. The damage may or may not be covered. Depending on what the damage is, repairing the damage could be relatively easy if you use a book conservator. This kind of repair is often not cheap, but if the book is that expensive or means that much to you, then it is possible.
Good luck moving your personal library! My move went well and I had no damage to my books.