The art of packing books

By Richard Weatherford
Source: Interloc News, June 1996

It is one of the most discouraging things that can happen. You have ordered a book for yourself or for a customer, but when it arrives, it looks like it has spent some time under road grading machinery.

Before packing a book, it is well to consider the journey that book will take to get to the recipient. One trip to a postal sorting facility is usually all it takes for anyone to understand the need for careful wrapping, sturdy cardboard and boxes, and clear addressing covered with strong clear tape to protect it. It is a surprise that books arrive at their destinations in one piece at all. Proper packing can help insure a safe journey and a satisfied recipient.

Even an inexpensive book deserves to be packed well. Over the years, there have been some conventions that experienced shippers know will work, and others that they know will lead to disaster. With more and more shipping and drop-shipping needed in the book world, it never hurts to review shipping procedures.

Pre-wrapping check

1 - Check each book for paper, cards, bookmarks, money, and other things inserted between the pages. These may be bulky and, when the book is wrapped, they can spring or loosen the hinges.

Next, check the book for condition and make a note of problems on your shipping log, such as broken hinges, a torn spine, damaged dust jacket, and other marks or blemishes. If you need to file an insurance claim, you will need to have a record of the condition of the item.

First wrapping

2 - Wrap each book separately in plain paper. Some people use tissue paper, some use plain brown wrapping paper, and some use plain, unprinted plastic bags. NEVER use bags that have had any type of food or chemical in them. We are all in favor of recycling, but there has to be a limit. And do not wrap books in newspaper. News print comes off on book bindings and dust jackets, and it comes off on your hands when you touch it. Many people do not use any newsprint, even as stuffing, around books.

3 - Use plastic tape or masking tape (NOT a tape that requires water) to hold the book in the plain paper wrapping. The book should be wrapped securely in this plain paper, but not too tightly.

A wrapping that is too tight will cause the corners to bend over and the hinges to weaken. A wrapping that is too loose will cause the text block to become loose in the binding during shipping.


4 - Next, wrap the book in some padding material. Use bubble wrap, foam wrap, several sheets of plain newsprint, or some similar wrapping material. The purpose of this layer is to cushion the book against bumps and to put some distance between the book and the outside cardboard wrapping.

Cardboard & boxes

5 - A single book with proper padding may be wrapped in two or three layers of sturdy cardboard, providing the book is not terribly valuable. To avoid damage, make sure there is plenty of cardboard (at least one inch) overlapping the ends of the book. The outer corners are the most delicate parts; they show the most damage, and they show it first. Make sure there is plenty of cardboard to cushion bumps.

Many booksellers will not ship books in “Jiffy” bags. They are, after all, merely a covering of paper and a very thin layer of recycled newspaper. They are not intended to protect much of anything against damage. A box is definitely preferred, esp. for books that have even modest value, simply because books in a box are likely to suffer much less damage.

Be sure to select a box that is clean and dry. Do not use boxes with damp spots or oil stains. These weaken the structure of the box and may transfer to the book itself.

Put plenty of padding in the box, top, bottom, all sides and corners. The book(s) must be securely suspended in the middle of the box. This padding material should also be clean and dry. Again, newsprint is no longer recommended because inks transfer too easily to your hands.

When taping the box, be sure that every seam is covered with tape and that you wrap the box entirely more than once with plastic or reinforced paper tape around each way. Once the box is taped, shake it to see that the contents do not rattle around. If they do, open the box and pack the item(s) more tightly. If a book is loose in the box, it will surely suffer damage in shipment.

Finally, be sure the address label is written in a large clear hand. Then cover the entire label with clear tape.