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When the world is gripped by a pandemic, there are many activities that need to be approached with a new level of caution. Masks, gloves, social distancing, especially thorough handwashing, minimizing trips to public spaces—these are but a few of the considerations that people must now take into account as they navigate the world around them. Indeed, many routine activities from before the pandemic have effectively been halted completely as a result of this deadly virus. And yet, there are some things that a person may find they still have to do, even if they would much prefer to be doing so under more ideal circumstances.
Obviously, what we are talking about here is having to move your books.
What follows is useful advice for what to do should you find yourself having to move your books in the midst of a pandemic. Though these tips are based on careful consultation with a respectable assortment of librarians, book dealers, bibliophiles, and nomadic grad students – it should be noted that these suggestions have not been officially endorsed by the CDC, FEMA, or the WHO. Had the CDC, FEMA, or the WHO taken the time to consider the excellent advice that follows, they would probably endorse this guide and fold it into their own plans; however, as those organizations are a bit busy with other things right now, they could not be bothered to evaluate and endorse this guide. In other words, use this guide at your own risk.
Find a better time to move
Pandemic times are many things, but an ideal time in which to move your books they most assuredly are not. Whether you have a couple of boxes of books, a dozen boxes of books, or fifty boxes of books – you need to seriously ask yourself: is now really the best time for me to be moving these? The answer will almost certainly be a resounding “no, this isn’t the best time for me to be moving these.” Therefore, don’t move your books right now. And insofar as the decision to move your books is likely coinciding with a larger move of the rest of your belongings, try to delay that move as well. The best way to move your books during a pandemic is to not move your books during a pandemic—all of the experts who were consulted in the creation of this guide echoed this simple truth.
Look, packing up your books takes a lot of work, it’s exhausting, it will require you to carry those heavy boxes around, you’ll get sweaty, you’ll wind up breathing heavily, you’ll be having to go back and forth to the truck you rented, your heavy breathing will be further complicated by having to wear a mask, your grip on the boxes of books will be less secure because you’ll be wearing disposable gloves, people will be looking at you and wondering why you’re moving your books in the middle of a pandemic…and the list goes on. Just don’t move your books during a pandemic. Really. It’s not a good time.
Granted, it may well be that you have no choice but to move your books in the midst of a pandemic. Alas. If you genuinely have no choice but to move them while a plague is raging, read on…
Don’t forget the guidelines
Having to move your books is no excuse to throw the general guidelines from the CDC, FEMA, and WHO into the rubbish bin. You should be keeping those protective provisions in mind as you go about the process of moving your books. Wear a mask! Wash your hands regularly with soap and hot water (for at least twenty seconds)! Don’t invite a bunch of random people into your home to help you pack up your books! Cover your mouth before coughing, and don’t use a nearby book as the object with which you cover your mouth! And, of course, if you are feeling infirm, consult a doctor immediately—and, to be clear, the doctor you consult should be a medical doctor. Many of the people with mountains of books to move have a certain tendency to “lose themselves” in their books, but don’t so completely lose yourself that you forget the basic steps for keeping safe.
Properly prepare your books
What do you do with your books when it is cold? Obviously, you put your books in their book jackets. What do you with your books when it is hot? Obviously, you remove the jackets from your books and store those jackets in an archival quality storage tub until such a time as it gets cold again. What do you with your books when it is raining? Obviously, you keep them inside where they are sheltered from the storm. What do you do with your books when there is a pandemic? Obviously, you make sure that all of your books have proper masks and gloves. Unfortunately, as this pandemic has swept the globe, it has caused serious shortages of book masks and book gloves, with many of these having been hoarded by book conservators who insist “there’s no such thing as book masks” even as they buy up all the book masks they can find. You may find that you need to sew your own books masks, though you can also make acceptable book masks out of t-shirts, or out of bandanas. You’ll also want to make sure to keep your books together with the books they already live with. If any of your books are exhibiting any of the signs of the pandemic you’ll want to immediately isolate those books, and put any of the books they may have come into contact with (their shelf mates) under careful observation.
Be careful about getting new books right now
You know what a bad time to get new books is? When you’re in the middle of moving your books! Do you know what can stop a committed bibliophile from accumulating new books? Nothing. Thus, if you find that you are accumulating new books even as you prepare to move all of your old books, make sure to isolate the new books (for health reasons) before bringing them into your larger collection. These new books should be isolated in a bookless room for two weeks to ensure that they are symptom free before they are allowed to join the rest of your collection. You don’t want those new books, which you just had to buy now because the sale the publisher was offering was so good, to wind up infecting your library.
Hire a book flagellant
One way to protect your books from the virus is to solicit the services of an ordained member of the Order of the Tome. The members of this sackcloth clad monastic order are seldom seen when times are good, but in the midst of a pandemic they can be found wandering the stacks of quarantined libraries, chanting hymns in forgotten languages, and lightly whipping the books with their cat-o-nine-book-snake-tails in order to drive the infectious spirits away from the books. Members of this order are generally tasked with praying over libraries, but you can often hire one of them to come perform a quick service over your personal library. As this holy order is tasked with protecting books, you shouldn’t need to pay them; however, they generally appreciate it if you help cover their travel costs. They can be a bit overzealous in their work, so it never hurts to keep an eye on them as they’re whipping your books, but generally they’re a great way of keeping your books plague free. To hire one you’ll need to speak to an initiate of the Order of the Tome, such initiates are commonly referred to as librarians. It is worth noting that many librarians see book flagellants as an embarrassment and will probably deny that they are real.
But know this, dear reader, they are real. They are very real.
Buy boxes once
Look at your bookshelves and ask yourself: “how many boxes will I need for all of these books?” You may even try to remember how many boxes you needed the last time you moved your books, and then adjust this number based on how many more books you have accumulated since that last move. Think long and hard about this number, and know that no matter how confident you are, you are wrong. You’ll need more boxes. Really. You’ll probably need quite a few more. To actually get boxes you’ll need to go to a place that sells boxes, going to such a place will require you to break your quarantine and venture into the outside world, the outside world where there’s still a pandemic going on, you’ll have to go into a place that sells boxes, and are you certain that everyone else who has gone into that place that sells boxes is virus free? You need to minimize the number of trips you’ll make to the box store. Ideally, the number of times you should go to the box store is one. So, make sure you get all of the boxes you need in one trip.
How many boxes should you get? At least ten more than you think you’ll need.
Sick books? Hire a Plague Doctor
While the beak-masked plague doctors are primarily known for the services they provide to human patients, most will be willing to ply their curative arts on books for a proper fee. Some may balk that if there is something wrong with your books that surely you are better off hiring a conservator, but most conservators roll their eyes when it comes to arcane tasks like applying leaches to old hardcover books, or balancing the humors of graphic novels. While a conservator will be highly skilled in responding to the ills that often ail books (red rot, mold, water damage), if you’re worried that your books have contracted the plague you’ll need someone with more specific training. That being said, you must be careful to make sure that you are hiring a real plague doctor and not just somebody who thought it would be funny to buy a beaked mask and black cloak online in order to look unsettling in these unsettled times. A good way to make sure you’re not hiring a fraud is to ask the plague doctor “should a hardcover book be found to have the plague, what would you do?” The correct answer is “remove its jacket, put it in a cool dry room, and apply leaches to the book’s spine.” Any other answer is a sign that the person you are consulting is a fraud.
Have quarantine boxes
As you pack your books you will need to carefully sort your books based on their health status. You should pack your healthy books together, and you should pack your books exhibiting symptoms separately. Have a couple of boxes designated as official quarantine/isolation boxes. You may want to invest in the official book quarantine boxes that are manufactured by companies that make archival storage supplies. Make sure to keep your quarantined boxes away from your healthy boxes, as you do not want to risk the virus spreading from your sick books to your healthy books. It may be necessary to get a larger quarantine box and put your smaller quarantine boxes inside of it. Do not forget to clearly mark this as your quarantine box so that there can be no confusion.
Books are heavy. Lots of books are very heavy. There is no shame in hiring assistance for moving your books. However, if you should choose to do so, make sure that you are abiding by the pandemic instructions given by the moving company. These are to keep them, you, and your books safe. They will likely ask you what you have to move, and you should be up front about the number of boxes of books you have to move. They will likely ask you if your books have masks and other necessary protective gear, and you’ll want to be able to answer (honestly) in the affirmative. Also: make sure to tip well.
Don’t hire roving knights to help you move your books
It may be that while you’re in the process of preparing your books for the move, a haggard looking fellow in worn chainmail and a faded tabard with a haunted look in their eyes, will come to your door asking if they can help you move your books. You should take pity on this poor soul. Offer to give them something to drink and perhaps something to eat (you should place these outside for them—remember to keep a distance from this wanderer), but you should not under any circumstances hire them. In all likelihood this sorry person is being pursued by none other than Death, and you don’t want to get caught in the middle of that. You may well have a chess board in your library, and you don’t want this knight and Death playing chess in your library while you’re trying to move. Trust me.
Get your boxes of books out of the moving truck quickly
Chances are good that you are moving things other than just books. As such the truck (either the one you’ve rented, or the one owned by the movers you’ve hired) is likely filled with a range of other belongings. Tables, chairs, couches, mattresses, records, clothing, musical instruments, electronics, hastily packed boxes filled with random odds and ends, and so forth. Have you ensured that all of these other items are healthy? Might some of these objects have been coughing in the back of that hot truck as it drove from your old abode to your new home? It is a possibility you must consider! Therefore, do not dawdle! Unpack the truck quickly, so that the boxes of books are not cooped up with your other belongings longer than they need to be. It would be such a shame to go through all the work of ensuring the health of your books only for them contract the virus in the back of the truck. Unpack the truck with haste, but also unpack it with wisdom. Do not try to carry more than you can handle. Take the time necessary to unpack the truck without hurting yourself, but do not (do not) leave your boxes of book in the back of that mobile petri dish for a moment longer than is necessary.
Make unpacking your books your top priority
Once you are in your new home, unpack your books immediately. As soon as the truck is empty and has driven off (or has been returned to the place from which it was rented) begin unpacking your books. This may mean that you need to reassemble your bookshelves first, and if that is the case, so be it; however, in this case it is advisable for you to cut open the tops of your boxes of books so they can at least get some fresh air. Get your books back on their shelves at once, you can worry about organizing them later, your initial priority must be the simple task of liberating them from their boxes. And, as you do this, pay close attention to the status of the books as you remove them from their temporary cardboard domicile. Do any of them seem to be running a fever? Are any of them coughing? Are any of them seemingly out of breath? If any of the books seem to have become ill on the journey you should put those in fresh quarantine boxes so that they cannot infect the books that made the journey in good health. Getting your books unpacked will give you an important psychological boost (though seeing your books out of order may grate on you until such a time as you can properly organize them), but it will provide an even more important benefit to the books themselves.
Lastly, as you settle into your new home, make sure your books stay healthy
Too many book lovers pay scant attention to the welfare of their books. After all, many a sorry soul only bothers to hire a book flagellant when they’re about to move. Alas, many a book owner does not even know about the ancient Order of the Tome! It is imperative for you to make sure that your books are healthy before you move them, but after you’ve moved them you’ll want to ensure that they stay healthy.
Granted, preserving the health of your books is a topic for another time.
More advice of questionable merit!