Packing and Schlepping

This is the second installment in a series on moving.

Packing and schlepping your books is what most folks think of when they think of moving, and most of the sad stories I hear about moving books come from poor packing. Boxes get dropped, books shift inside them during transit, and just the weight of stacked boxes can do a number on poorly-packed books. Using good boxes and following a few basic principles can save you a lot of heartache down the road.


Here are the principles I pack by.

Firstly: group books by size. I generally sort one or two shelves at a time by size, pack most of them, then add any stragglers to the next couple of shelves and repeat. This has two advantages: my books wind up packed mostly in the right groupings, so I can label the boxes by section, and it makes fitting the books together in the box a lot easier.


Secondly: Any books that will be vertically oriented in the box should go spine down. This is non-negotiable for hardcover books, and I generally do it for paperbacks too. Why? If you drop the box, any hardcover book with spine up or spine to the side will be subject to the momentum of the pages when the covers stop. Especially if they’re spine up, it can damage the spine a great deal, even tear the text block loose from the cover. Bad stuff. For paperbacks, the spine is stronger and less likely to get damaged in the event the box is dropped. Books are heavy, boxes fall or get dropped, it happens. Better to be prepared.

Thirdly: when possible, make two stacks in opposing corners of the box of books lying flat, and have those stacks go from the bottom of the box all the way to the top. This helps the box keep its structural integrity when other things are stacked on top of it. Cardboard isn’t actually all that strong, as I learned when I packed 70 or so boxes of books for a book drive last year. Stack poorly-packed boxes more than two or three high and they’ll start to collapse under the weight of the boxes on top of them. Not good!

IMG_20111016_125032.jpgFourthly, and worth saying in spite of being obvious: pack the boxes all the way full. Don’t let your books slide around! They always seem to find the worst possible direction to slide and wind up getting damaged. Use soft, light things like pillows, fluffy sweaters, towels, tshirts, or just about anything else that works well to fill in any gaps in your book boxes (in the photo here, you’ll see a weird rubber knick-knack holder I tucked in there — I shook the box around a bit before taping it closed and it worked to hold the books in place just fine).

Another practical thing to consider when packing your books is how much detail to use in labeling the boxes. I’m a fairly lazy labeler when it comes to my own moving, and it seems like every time I move I swear that next time I’ll do a better job. In this move, I just scribbled a letter or two on each box to indicate which part of my library it belonged to (U for Unread, SC for Special Collections, etc).


You’ve probably heard all the standard advice: lift with your legs, not your back! Take breaks! Another less-well-known thing to watch out for: don’t pivot while holding something heavy! If you are picking things up from a dolly and lifting them into the back of a truck or car, be careful that you aren’t rotating without moving your feet while you’re holding the box. Generally one can get away with it a few times, especially if the rotation is only 90 degrees or so, but more than that and you will almost certainly throw your back out. This, I know from personal experience. Learn from my mistakes, my friends! Be nice to your back. Use a dolly! Get friends to help you! (Be sure to stock up on their snacks/beverages of choice, especially at the new residence. Friends help you move, good friends help you move books.)

A Final Note

Be careful when unloading wall-mounted book cases, even those where the brackets are attached to the boards. Books are very heavy, and an unbalanced shelf can very easily shift unexpectedly — at best, it dumps some books on the floor, at worst, it can rip half your bookcase off the wall. I’ve seen it happen! So be careful. Even with regular bookcases, it’s wise to unload them from top to bottom so that the center of gravity stays nice and low. Packing and moving is bad enough without adding injuries to the mix!

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Preparing to Move

This is the first installment in a series on moving.

So, fellow bibliophile! You’re going to be moving soon? You have my sympathies! Moving a library can be a nightmare. Preparation is vital.

Give Your Books a Once-Over

Do you have any particularly delicate books? Books in this category include:

  • Any paperback or hardcover with loose pages or other structural damage.
  • Antique books that seem a bit fragile
  • Odd-sized books (very small or very tall and thin)


Decide how concerned you are for these books’ well-being and either set them aside to be transported separately (possibly each wrapped in packing paper first) or make a mental note to pack with them in mind so they’ll be supported and braced by other books.

Find the Right Boxes

This is very important. It’s really, really easy to look at a box and think it’ll be fine when packed with books and then find yourself unable to move it without injury. Books are heavy.  Three trade paperbacks weigh about a pound. So does a single normal-size hardcover.

In my experience, the small cube-sized boxes offered by places like U-Haul are a bit small, while their small rectangular boxes are too big. The best boxes I’ve found so far are the ones from Better World Books I was able to get leftover from a book drive done in partnership with them. That’s what I used for my most recent move.

If you can’t get your hands on book drive boxes, you’re better erring on the side of too small than too big. If all you can find are big boxes, try hitting up a local library or bookstore for leftover boxes from their book shipments. Or, pack a layer of books at the bottom of your big boxes and then filling the rest of the space with something lightweight.

The C-Word

I am of course, talking about culling.

I read Unclutterer frequently, and most of the folks writing/commenting there are major proponents of getting rid of any book that isn’t reference or something you’re going to read and reread.You’ll find the same message on many other sites, and not just minimalist-oriented ones.

Unsurprisingly, I disagree.

Books are more than just the stories they hold. They are historical artifacts, memorabilia, and plenty more. If nobody ever held onto old books, there are a lot of researchers who would be majorly out of luck. Consider the museums that showcase children’s books, or the ancient books historians and bibliophiles pour over. Hell, I’m really irked that I will probably never get my hands on a complete copy of Varney the Vampire because it was a penny dreadful and those cheap pamphlets almost never survived culling (even Project Gutenberg doesn’t have a complete version). At the time, nobody thought Varney the Vampire was anything more than just another pulp horror story. Looking back, though, it was one of the first vampire novels in English, and that makes it significant.

I’ve frequently held onto books and reread them later because I learned something new about the author or otherwise had my views changed.

I’m a big believer that what we each do with our book collections is our own business, so if you choose to cull yours, I won’t give you a hard time about it — but if you’re considering culling mostly because of pressure from other people, don’t. Nobody can say what the right standards for collecting are for you but you.

All Set?

Once you’ve got your boxes and decided how to handle your delicate books, you’re ready to pack! Come back next week for my take on that.

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She’s BACK!

So! I’ve been AWOL from the blog for a while. Why?

I moved.

Nothing like prepping to move when you not only have over 1,200 books but are also something of a packrat. Ouch.

So, I figured I’d do a series of posts about the realities of moving when you are a bibliophile!

Watch this space as I cover:

  1. Preparing to move
  2. Packing your books — books into boxes, boxes into truck/van/car/whatever
  3. Unpacking your books — from the truck/van/car/whatever, and from the boxes
  4. Final touches

See you next Wednesday!

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I’m Selling Blank Books!

OK, so I think in theory, the way selling stuff online goes, you’re supposed to have a big co-ordinated launch thing with newsletters and tweets and posts and whatnot.

Which is great, but I am sick and am jobhunting for another cubicle gig, so I’m a little preoccupied. Sorry about that.

But! You Can Still Buy Stuff

I am selling blank books, like the ones I made in my early Bookbinding classes at the SFCB! They are basically your standard sized hardbound blank books, with unlined pages, except I made them!

Pretty sweet, no?

Also, I am a Paper Nerd

The blank books use Mohawk Superfine 70lb Text paper for the pages, and let me tell you, I am in love with this paper. I used it to make myself an oversized journal to do my Morning Pages in, and I still can’t get over how smooth it is — just the right amount of smooth. It’s got an eggshell finish, so the ink soaks in and there’s a bit of friction against the nib of your pen, but just the right amount.

Even better, if you make dark lines on a loose sheet of paper and put it behind the sheet you’re writing on, you can just barely see the lines through the Mohawk Superfine! Seriously, this stuff is basically my Platonic ideal of paper. I know it’s not gonna be everybody’s, but if you taste in paper is anything like mine, you will drool when you touch it.

I used colors and patterns on the covers that I thought looked spiffy, but I’ve barely touched my stash of decorative paper and book cloth, so there will be plenty of other designs coming! I’ll be posting the books two or three at a time, as I finish them, so keep an eye on my Etsy Shop!

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The Art and Science of Cloth Rebacking

Last week I spent four days, 9:30-6ish, up at the San Francisco Center for the Book, learning how to do cloth rebacking.

WTF is Cloth Rebacking?

Well might you ask!

Cloth rebacking is when you take a cloth-bound book that is falling apart and fix its binding.

Fitting the clothBasically, it involves putting new cloth underneath the old cloth and rebinding the book. There’s a lot more to it than that, and I put up a ton of photos on my personal Flickr detailing the process.

It was really fun!

The teacher, Dominic Riley, is a professional bookbinder and book repairer from the UK, and he has done over 900 cloth rebackings alone in the course of his career. He knew all kinds of tricks and methods of dealing with the various odd bits of damage and peculiarities of the books my classmates and I were working on for the class.

There were a few steps that were incredibly stressful, like cutting into the bookboard to make a channel for the new cloth to go into, and working the cloth into it. My book’s bookboard was very old and fragile, and really uncooperative!

Front Cover: progressWeirdly, my favorite part was repainting the cover — a very painstaking and exact process using the finest brush I own (which I originally bought for detail work painting lead miniatures). It was also the part I did the best at — Dominic seemed very impressed with my work. So gratifying!

I’m looking forward to practicing on several of my own books and on some of my family’s books — and then I’m going to start offering this service to all of you!

Got damaged books?

Start making a note of which books you have that could use some TLC. The Book Roadie’s Book Hospital will be taking patients soon!

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Care and Feeding of Books

How do you take care of your books?

For most folks, the thought never really occurs. Books get tossed on shelves or plunked into boxes and left in all sorts of storage spaces, with little thought about their wellbeing. Those of us who are bibliophiles, think about these things.

Bugs and heat and moisture, oh my!

The biggest enemies of books are those three. There are plenty of bugs that can get into books, though cockroaches and silverfish are the most common where I live. They nibble on covers and pages and make a horrible mess. And, as anyone who’s ever left a book in their car in the summer can tell you, heat can warp the heck out of a book. Even worse is moisture, and wide swings in temperature will leave moisture on your books very happily (if you’ve ever wondered why outside walls with furniture close against them often wind up with mildew, it’s the moisture that collects during large temperature changes).

Moisture in large quantities (from the humidity of a bathroom or from actual immersion in water) is the bane of books everywhere, and that’s fairly obvious, but the moisture exposure over time from storage in a place with wide temperature changes is insidious and not very obvious.

What to do, what to do?

The easiest way to deal with all these problems is to store your books in a cool, dry, clean location. Think of a large public library. If they have large windows, they have coverings or UV proof film. Libraries have air conditioning, and good circulation around their books. Plus, libraries are cleaned regularly!

The rule of thumb I learned early on was to store your books in a room that would be comfortable to live in. Attics, basements, and storage units tend not to be comfortable living spaces due to their heat in summer, cold in winter, and stuffy natures. They don’t make good homes for books, either.

My bookcases are against an outside wall, but I pull the books forward on the shelves so there’s plenty of circulation behind them, and I regulate the temperature in my apartment as best I can without actual air conditioning (I chose carefully and my apartment is well shaded and on the first floor so it doesn’t get too hot in the summertime). We all have to make compromises, but if you pay attention and strive to get as close to the ideal as possible, your books will have a long and happy life with you.

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When is a Book not a Book?

Last week I finished a two-part class at the San Francisco Center for the Book which was ostensibly about making multiples of a structure (say, making a bunch of blank journals with the same number of pages and style of binding), but which turned into a guide to making small art books once we exhausted the planned curriculum.

Tiny bits of bookish art

Our teacher owns a small specialty press in the East Bay, and specializes in custom editions of things like invitations. She also makes amazing tiny art books like the one pictured here.

IMAG0737It was interesting to look at the structures she had made. In some ways, they were clearly books: they had pages and covers, and most of them had text in them, even if it was just something like “Happy New Year! – Jocelyn.” And yet, they’re not quite what I think of as books — they have odd constructions, and are meant to be decorative more than to hold information.

What IS a book, exactly?

I’m a big believer in defining my terms! I define a book as: a physical structure which holds information in an easy-to-access, analog format (ie, markings on its surfaces). Books can be made of just about anything, really — metal, vellum, parchment paper, wood, whatever. Those cardboard books designed for babies are still books. I don’t consider an ereader to be a book, though. If it can run out of batteries or break irretrievably when you drop it, it’s not a book, it’s a piece of electronics.

By that metric, these little art books are indeed books — hell, a scroll can be a book, depending on whether you think it’s easy to read a scroll. It’s easy to slide into a philosophical discussion about what is and is not a book. What about those folks who take discarded books and carve them into strange shapes? Are the items they produce still books? I’d say no, as they’re not holding information in markings on their surfaces; they’ve become sculptures, and a sculpture is not a book.

What do you think?

Where do you draw the line between book and not-book?

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The Sensual Art of Bookbinding

In my day job, I sit at a desk and work on a computer all day, documenting all kinds of things, many of them theoretical (I recently spent over a week on a flowchart of how a very complex system of servers works). I write movie reviews on the side, too — which involves sitting in the dark and using my vision and hearing to take in a movie, then sitting at a desk and writing about it. I also do computer gaming (mostly on my XBox), blogging, and generally spend a lot of my time staring at either a computer screen or a tv screen.

Sure, I have hobbies that involve other senses — gardening, knitting — and I adore them, but they take up a tiny part of my week comparatively speaking. Also, for me, they’re not really crafts in the craftsmanship sense. I enjoy them and do them well, but I don’t have specialized training in them.

Now that I’m setting chunks of time aside to work on books, it’s like my senses are suddenly coming out of hibernation. I was recently working on sewing  a book, using a cast iron paperweight I bought in Portland at the Japanese Garden, and I was struck by all the sensory input I was being swamped with. Stitching the signatures of a book together doesn’t take a lot of abstract, intellectual thought, just care and some attention. It’s very zen.

Just sitting there, I could:

  • Smell the beeswax I’d used on the linen thread
  • See the light of my desk lamp on the pages, the growing pattern of the stitches, and the lovely paperweight (I’m trying to come up with a good name for him)
  • Feel the paper under my left hand as I held it and the vibration of the thread against the paper via the needle in my right hand
  • Hear the whisper of the thread against the paper and the reassuring thunk of the weight whenever I moved it

All I needed was something to taste and every sense would be involved! I’m considering having a special drink or snack at my side just when I’m working on books, if only to get that last sense in there.

It was wonderful!

The sensory input of bookbinding permeates the craft. The feel of the paper, the sound it makes when I fold it, the click of the bone folder sliding off its edge, the smell of the paste, the whisper when I cut it. It’s the sound, feel, and scent of bookbinding I notice the most, which makes sense given that so much of my time is spent looking at things. Visual art is nothing new — I read blogs with gorgeous design, watch videos, look at cat macros — but doing something so rich in the other senses is astonishing.

It’s a delight.

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Powell’s Pilgrimage 2011

Powell's City of Books I just got back from a week in Portland. It was awesome. (You know you wanna see my vacation pix.)

As usual, it involved multiple trips to Powell’s. Also, my first ever purchases from the Rare Book Room and the locked case in the Gold Room (which is Fantasy/Horror/Sci-Fi/Mystery)! SO exciting.

I simply cannot articulate my adoration for Powell’s City of Books (there are several satellite stores, but the CoB is the main one, and the one most folks, including me, mean when they refer to Powell’s). It’s enormous. It has used and new books shelved together so you can see what your options are. It has all kinds of weird and rare books, and a really nifty cafe where you can take books you’re thinking about buying and look them over while you sip an Italian soda or nibble a pannini. Bliss.

Here’s my haul for this year:

And a shot of my lovely first editions’ covers:

This trip is why I saved my spare change (and a few bucks here and there) all year long. Getting $100 in a raffly thing at work didn’t hurt, either. 🙂

Now comes the fun part: reading them all.

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An Experiment!

I’m a big fan of the scientific method, so when I heard that one way to save a book that’s been dropped in water was to toss it in a self-defrosting freezer, I had to check it out for myself.

It’s like magic!

The idea is that the water will freeze and the sublime (like evaporating, but from solid to vapor instead of liquid to vapor) the same way your ice cubes do if you don’t use ’em. The book gets left behind in almost good-as-new condition. Apparently libraries use it after flooding and whatnot. Pretty cool, eh? Apparently it takes several months, is the only tricky part.

But it’s HERESY!

The tricky bit, of course, is that this involves risking the wellbeing of a book. Getting a book wet is anathema to me, but this is for a greater good, right? Fortunately, I just tossed aside a book I couldn’t stand and was going to sell it or something. I decided rather than inflict it on someone else, I would use it for this experiment.

Before anyone gets up in arms, yes, I know there are people who love this book. I hated it. It happens. Especially when a book is froofy philosophy without any real logic or decent reasoning underlying it. GRAH! I love philosophy but only when it actually makes sense. Since the vast majority of philosophy is of the sort that makes me bang my head against the wall, I wisely majored in English instead of paying attention to my philosophy prof’s urgings.


Here are the before and after photos of the book. I got it wet by dunking it in a full sink of water on 4/23.

I’ll let you all know what happens!

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