How to Pack Books Like a Professional

Woman standing next to cardboard box holding a pile of books
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For book lovers, packing up to move to a new home can be especially challenging, since books are among the heaviest items for their size. And true book lovers may have hundreds, if not thousands of books to move. Where possible, try to get rid of any books that you don't use or don't need, hard though this may be. But remember that moving companies generally charge by the weight of the freight they are shipping, so there is good reason to jettison any books you can live without.

When it comes to moving books, it makes sense to follow the procedures perfected by libraries, many of which pack and ship hundreds of books across the country each week.

Tools and Supplies You Will Need

  • Sturdy cardboard boxes
  • Packing paper
  • Bubble wrap
  • Sheets of cardboard
  • Packing tape
  • Marker

Instructions

Sort and Then Donate or Sell

If you're moving a long distance, have hired movers, and are being charged by weight, make sure you carefully go through your books and determine what you want to keep and what you're willing to pay to move. Hardcovers are heavy and even paperbacks can add up to a lot of money. Book enthusiasts tend to accumulate many books over a short time, so now is a great time to separate the "must-haves" from the "done-with-that" titles. Identify those books that are unlikely to be read again, then look for a good home for them. Second-hand stores, church and school libraries, neighborhood lending libraries, and used-book retailers are all places that may take your old books.

Choose the Right Boxes

Once you've chosen a careful selection of books to move, buy or scrounge some sturdy, medium-sized cardboard boxes. Check to make sure they can hold the weight (new boxes may be rated for weight) and make sure they are free from dampness—a particular concern with used boxes. While it's always good to pack with used boxes if you can, when it comes to books it is important to make sure the boxes are solid, will hold the weight, and that there isn't any wetness that could harm your books. Also, buy some sturdy packing tape to seal the box bottom and top and a marker to label the box's contents.

Prepare the Boxes for Packing

If you buy new packing boxes, you will need to put them together first. Make sure you seal the bottom well with a double layer of tape over all the seams. Where you are sealing the center flap, make sure to continue the tape at least half-way up the sides of the box. If you're using a recycled box, always tape the bottom a third time to make sure it will hold.

Pack Hardcover Books

Hardcover editions can be packed by placing them in the box standing upright, spine against the box's side, just like you were placing it on a shelf. If you pack books this way, make sure they're packed well, but not so tightly that they might be damaged when removing them from the box.

  • If the hardcover editions are of moderate value, wrap each one in packing paper before placing them in the box.
  • Books of great value, such as old photo albums or first editions, require stiff cardboard placed between each volume to keep the spines straight and to prevent any movement. Each book should also be protected with paper and placed in a well-padded box. Bubble wrap or extra packing paper balled up can be used to line the box before you pack each valuable book.
  • Less valuable hardcovers can be packed flat and stacked.

Pack Paperbacks

Like ordinary hardcovers, paperback books can be packed flat and stacked. Or, pack them spine first so that the paper edges face up. To prevent damage, do not pack books with the paper edges facing down and spines up—this will cause books to warp and pages to bend.

Books can also be packed using all three methods in one box. Just make sure you don't pack books at odd angles.

Secure the Boxes

Before closing the box, use wadded-up paper to fill any remaining spaces. Books can shift easily during the move, causing damage. Tape the box closed and label it "Books." If you are reusing old boxes, make sure to cross out any previous markings so there is no confusion about what the box now holds.

Pack the Truck or Trailer

In the moving truck or moving van, book boxes are best placed on the floor of the vehicle. Do not stack the boxes unless you can properly secure them against moving or tipping. Books are heavy and if the boxes should topple, they can cause a lot of damage to furniture or other breakable items.

Long-Term Storage

If you need to store books for any length of time, make sure the storage facility is dry and cool. And if your books are of high value, you may want to use acid-free paper instead of packing paper to wrap them. Acid-free paper won't deteriorate or turn yellow over time. Knowing how to clean books and properly care for them will make them last much longer.