Cleaning Library Materials and the Stacks


Stacks, offices, and storage areas must be kept clean of debris and dust. When dust collects on books, it absorbs and holds moisture that accelerates deterioration by acid hydrolysis. A continuing program of cleaning shelves and library materials will help to control the amount of airborne dirt. Neat, clean book stacks will also send the message to the patrons that library materials deserve respect and care.

In his book “A Library, Media, and Archival Preservation Handbook,” DePew recommends that a regular cleaning cycle should be designed so as to work through the entire library every three to eight years, depending on the size and value of the collection, local dirt conditions, and use patterns.

General Procedures

Staff should make sure their hands remain as clean as possible. Clean hands will minimize the chances of leaving finger marks on the materials.

Dusting cloths should be replaced whenever they become soiled. If dusting cloths are non-disposable, they should be routinely washed as they become dirty, since particle dust contained in the cloths is abrasive to materials.

Cleaning materials should be stored properly when not in use.

Steps in Cleaning the Stacks and Library Materials

  1. When cleaning shelves, work from the top shelf down, thus avoiding the reintroduction of dirt to a cleaned shelf.
  2. If the tops of the books have a significant layer of dust, some of it can be removed while the books are still on the shelf. Using the vacuum, run the dust tool nozzle over the spines and the tops of the books. **NOTE Fragile materials should not be vacuumed as pieces of the item may be removed by the air suction
  3. Each book should also be removed from the shelves for individual vacuuming/dusting.
  4. Cleaning of the Materials

When materials are individually vacuumed or hand dusted, the volume should be held securely, with the edges of volumes held tightly together so that dirt will not sift down into the pages of the volume. Tip the head of the book forward and slant it down, with the spine facing up. Dust the top of the pages thoroughly, stroking toward the fore edge. Dust all the other surfaces of the binding. (See the diagram below) The dust cloth should pick up and trap the dust instead of just moving it around.

Extreme care should be taken when handling any materials that are in fragile condition; for example, the spine is coming loose or the paper is flaking off. A book should never be “scrubbed at” with a dust cloth as the abrasive action of the cloth and the dust will cause damage to the paper and the book covering.

  1. Other Activities While Cleaning: While cleaning a book, all objects left in books by patrons, such as pencils, index cards, scraps of paper, paper clips, should be removed with care. OPTIONAL: Materials should be quickly reviewed for preservation needs; those needing repair or rebinding should be tagged for treatment.
  2. Cleaning the Shelves: The shelves should be dusted before the materials are returned. The shelves themselves should be cleaned rather than just dusted if they are exceptionally dirty or have foreign substances on them; for example, spilled soft drink or coffee. The shelves should be allowed to dry completely before materials are returned to the shelf. Debris should be removed from the stack shelves and discarded; for example, loose sheets of paper, gum wrappers, etc.

Equipment and Supplies

Vacuum Cleaner: A vacuum cleaner is suited to cleaning of materials in the stacks. A piece of cheesecloth should be inserted so that the vacuum will not suck in any loose parts of the binding/paper. (See diagram) The face of the brush should be examined often so to remove any accumulation of dust which might interfere with cleaning and to retrieve any parts of the binding that may have been picked up.

Dust Cloths: One-Wipe treated dust cloths are recommended as preservation safe for cleaning and do not leave any harmful residues on books.


DePew, John N. “A Library, Media, and Archival Preservation Handbook.” Santa Barbara, CA : ABC-CLIO, 1991.

Horton, Carolyn. Cleaning and Preserving Bindings and Related Materials. 2nd ed., rev. Chicago : Library Technology Program, American Library Association, c1969. (Source of illustrations)