Talking Point with Elodie Lefort > Looking after your collection – Episode 1: Books and your library

Author(s) : LEFORT Élodie
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Well the weather’s getting worse and even though the confinement has slightly lifted here in France, it’s probably best to stay in. We thought it would be good to make the most of this time by bringing you a series of “Talking points” offering expert advice on how to look after your collection or, at any rate, to ensure it’s kept in the best possible conditions. Each of these collectors’ “Talking points” will focus on a specific medium or object. And since I know you are all avid readers (of Napoleonic works among others), for this first episode, I am going to look at techniques for making sure your library is looked after professionally.

Talking Point with Elodie Lefort > Looking after your collection – Episode 1: Books and your library
© Fondation Napoléon/Rebecca Young

The books in our libraries can become significantly damaged if they are not looked after. Libraries are not static places for storing books; they’re where you go to read and handle your books. To be sure, you don’t have to use gloves to handle them; in fact, the pages and the bindings benefit from handling. However, we must always make sure our hands are clean. The two main virtues of getting books off the shelves are, 1) this avoids the accumulation of dust on the books and 2) we can check to see whether small insects, books’ worst enemies, have started, literally, to devour the pages. The favourite foods of these bibliophagous (book eating…) insects are paper, binding and glue. The most common are many different sorts of book-eating beetles, among them booklice, and also termites. Most of the time, you can spot an infestation simply by opening a book and looking for small holes or even grooves in the pages. You can sometimes even find the larvae.

There are many ways of preventing their appearance, but most of all it is important not to leave food near your books. Secondly, you should thoroughly clean out your library out at least once a year. To do this you will need :

– Clean cloths,

– A basin,

– Water,

– Ideally, a micro-vacuum kit mounted on a hoover, but if you don’t have one available, a soft brush will do the trick,

– Plenty of energy.


First, clear the shelves of books. Take them out one by one. That way you can have a look at the general state of the bookcase, checking whether there is any weakness or damage to the shelves themselves or traces of water damage on the walls hidden behind the volumes. Once the shelves have been emptied, clean them with a clean slightly dampened microfibre cloth. Keep changing the water in your basin and if necessary, change the cloth. While the shelves are drying, take a close look at your books. Remove the dust from all six sides of the books either with a micro-vacuuming kit (use the mini brush) or with a soft brush. This removal of dust also prevents the proliferation of microorganisms. You can also inspect the pages of your books to see whether insects have made their way in. When you’ve done all this and the shelves are completely dry, put the books back. This will take a longer or shorter time, depending on how insatiable your appetite for books is… You could also take this opportunity to (re?)organise your library by genre, by author, by size, by binding colour… and if you do spot any damage (mould, pests or fragile binding), I recommend that you contact a book restorer. Their expertise can sometimes save a beloved book from oblivion.

After this thorough cleaning of your library, you deserve a break.

So, sit down in your favourite armchair, light a scented candle or just sit by the fire, and bury your head in a good book. Maybe it’s one of those you’ve just sorted. Perhaps you think your library’s too small. If you’re looking for ideas for new acqusitions, our Christmas selection is there for you. You’re sure to find something to make the cleaning last even longer next year!


Elodie Lefort is manager of the Fondation Napoléon Art Collection.

January 2021 (trans PH)

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