How to handle books

Watch our video on the tools and methods you should use when handling books.

Watch the video to see how you should stack books.

See how to safely remove books from shelves.

Books need careful handling. Watch our videos to see the tools and techniques you should use when handling, carrying and removing books from shelves. By following our advice you are helping us preserve books.

Please handle books with care

If you're removing books from shelves, don't pull them from the top of the spine, as this can cause damage.

Most books are not designed to open flat, so you should support them during use. Use book supports to provide support while limiting the opening angle.

Books are complex structures which can easily be placed under stress or tension. They can appear more robust than they actually are. Different binding styles need specific support methods to prevent strain and damage in use. You should pay attention to the spine area as this can split and weaken the binding structure.

Key points

When handling books, you should:

  • take the time to check you are supporting books adequately
  • use the book supports in a way that suits the book – adjust the supports or add more as needed
  • have tools and equipment to hand and enough space to work in.

If you carry or stack books:

  • limit the amount of items that you move or stack at one time
  • create stable piles of books by alternating between spine and fore edge
  • make more than one trip or use a trolley if moving large numbers of books.

To remove books from shelves:

  • grasp books mid-spine and lift them to remove them from the shelf
  • support heavy books underneath.

Collection guides

The King's Library

The collection of George III includes thousands of books and pamphlets

Scandinavian printed collections

One of the richest collections of books from the Scandinavian countries

Russian avant-garde collections

An extensive collection of avant-garde books of the early 20th century

French Revolutionary Tracts

50,000 books, pamphlets and periodicals printed in France between the 1780s and 1840s

French printed collections

Incunabula, books, journals, maps and music

Italian printed collections

Our Italian collections cover all periods and a wide variety of subjects

Digitised printed books (18th-19th century)

Over 60,000 out-of-copyright digitised books from the 18th and 19th century available for viewing, search, download and digital research.

German printed collections

Early and modern material printed in the German-speaking countries

Garrick Collection of English Plays

David Garrick's collection of 16th and 17th-century printed plays

Philip Larkin

Philip Larkin collection of books

Spanish printed collections

Includes 16,600 Spanish books published before 1801

Modern Greek printed collections

One of the world's finest collections of Greek and Cyprus imprints

Portuguese printed collections

Contemporary and antiquarian material, including 225 books published in Portugal before 1601

Dutch printed collections

Publications covering a wide range of subjects and periods from the Dutch-speaking territories

Thomason Tracts

A key source for the English Civil War in the mid-17th century