As someone who’s moved enough times that I’ve lost count, I have plenty of experience in the unenviable task of moving a large book collection. It’s easy enough to move books when you have only a few– you can tuck them in with other belongings, or pack a box or two. But what if you have hundreds or thousands? Get ready for a lot of work…
Start packing your books as soon as you know you’ll be moving, because it’s a slower process than it seems. You’ll also need time to gather enough boxes and other packing materials.
Sort As You Go
Normally I would never advise getting rid of books, but when you have to move them, sometimes you can have too much of a good thing. Take a second as you pack to ask whether you really want each book. If you decide you can part with a few, try donating them, giving them to friends, or having a yard sale (a good way to get rid of other stuff you don’t need anymore too). While you’re at it, you might also want to start sorting by size and weight; this is going to come in handy.
Use the Right Boxes
Size: I’ve had movers tell me that bigger, heavier (but fewer) boxes are preferable; others have complained about the weight after the first dozen or so. Ultimately, I think it’s best to stick to smaller boxes that won’t be too heavy– everyone’s backs will thank you.
New or Recycled: Either is fine as long as they’re strong, clean, and dry.
Other options: Some people recommend using rolling suitcases instead of boxes. I disagree. Suitcases tend to have rounded interior corners, which will leave you with a lot of wasted space, while also possibly damaging covers. The wheels might not be able to handle the weight of books, either (and wheels or not, at some point you’ll have to pick the thing up, and carrying a heavy box is easier than trying to hold a heavy suitcase by the handle). Most importantly, you’d need a lot of suitcases for anything more than a few dozen books.
First, make sure the bottom of your box is taped well (use extra tape if your boxes are recycled). Line the box with packing paper (or bubble wrap if the books are fragile).
Although ideally you’ll keep books from the same shelf together, that doesn’t always work out. You get the best results when you pack the same size books together (you quickly learn how many sizes of books there are once you start packing them). Keep similar weights together too– you don’t want very heavy books crushing lighter books.
You can pack books in three positions: flat on their backs, spine down, or standing up with the spines against the box’s sides. If you’re laying them flat then put heaviest books/hardcovers on the bottom and lighter books/paperbacks as you fill the box. I like to also put a layer of hardcovers on top, if possible, to help protect the paperbacks underneath.
If your books are somewhat valuable, you might want to wrap them individually in (preferably acid free) packing paper. If they’re antiques or very valuable, wrap them individually in acid free paper, place stiff cardboard between each book, and line the box with bubble wrap and paper.
If you have extra space, fill it with packing paper or something light (like clothing).
Use a marker to write the contents on the box (at the very least mark the box as books so you can more easily find them later). Mark boxes of antique or delicate books as fragile. If you have the time and patience you can keep a separate detailed list of specific contents. Number your boxes too– it’ll help you keep track.
Leave a Few Out
I have an e-reader and a library card but I still need to keep a few books unpacked– just in case. If you’re anything like me, you’ll probably want to do the same. These “survival” books can be tucked into a bag at the last minute so you’re never without something to read.
In the Truck
Professional movers know what they’re doing, but if you’re moving yourself it might not occur to you not to stack boxes of books. Things shift inside trucks and stacked heavy boxes can cause a lot of damage if they fall on lighter or more delicate items. If possible, limit their placement to a single layer on the floor.
If you need to put your books into storage, make sure they’re kept in a clean, dry, temperature-controlled environment. You might want to seal any gaps in the boxes with extra tape to give a little more protection against dirt and bugs. If they’re going to be stored for more than a couple of months, use acid free paper to wrap them and line the boxes. And check the tape before taking them out of storage– old tape can dry out.
Tip Your Movers
Moving is hard enough work without adding in heavy boxes of books. In Canada and the US the guideline for tipping is $20 to $25 per mover for a half day, or $40 to $50 per mover for a full day– plus a bit extra for “heavy furniture” (or stacks of books). If you enlisted the help of family and friends instead of pros, don’t forget them, either. While you don’t usually thank friends with cash (although they probably wouldn’t object if you tried), make sure you at least feed them. You might want to give some gift cards too, because friends who’ll help you move are gold, and friends who’ll help you move books are priceless.
Nothing makes your new place feel more like home than getting your books onto shelves. Books should be one of the first things you unpack– not only for the homey feel, but also to get all those boxes out of the way.
Learn from My Experience
In my last move the movers taped the actual shelves from my bookcases together. I guess it was easier to move and store them that way, but after a few months in storage the glue from the tape had melded to the wood. It came off with “goo gone” and a lot of scrubbing, but I had better things to do with my time. If your movers insist on bundling shelves together, tell them to use twine instead of tape (or at least ask that they wrap them in paper or bubble wrap first).
A commenter suggests adding silica gel packets to the boxes to help keep moisture levels down. I think this is a great suggestion! You can buy them at craft stores, hardware stores and various places online.
A commenter recommends wearing soft jersey gloves when unpacking books. The gloves will protect books from sweat, skin oils, or possibly blood if you get a paper cut, as well as protecting your hands from drying out or getting cut.
Do you have any other tips to add? What’s your experience with moving books? Share in the comments…
Aspasía S. Bissas