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Book Basics: How to Pack Your Volumes Safely

If you thought all those hours of Tetris were a waste of time, think about packing a box of books. You’re highly trained!

Before the launch of the school year, lots of folks are moving or shipping books. It may sound like a no-brainer, but there are dos and don’ts when it comes to packing them safely.

If you’re moving out of state, cull your books before packing, as you’ll be paying by weight. Ask yourself, am I likely to read this again, and if so, could I easily get it from a library? Even paperbacks are heavy and can contribute considerably.

Once you’ve scaled your library down, it’s time to pack.

  • Use small boxes, as medium or large will be too heavy and more apt to be dropped, damaging toes or the books inside, or landing on other boxes.
  • Always start by lining the box with plain newsprint paper.
  • Group the books by size.
  • If you’re packing books out of a bookcase, pack from the bottom shelf up and have your boxes nearby. After you fill the first box, place the second box on top of the first. That way you are working from bottom to top from your bookcase into the boxes.

Books can be packed any of these three ways:

  • Flat on their backs
  • Standing upright
  • Sideways, with their spines downward and pages facing up

You’ll probably find using a mix of these methods works best, to fill in odd pockets of space. This is where your Tetris skills come in! And the best part: the books don’t have to speed up as they go in the box!

There will invariably be some leftover space in each box. Use crumpled packing paper, peanuts or bubble wrap to snugly fill the gaps.

Never pack books with pages facing down, as this stresses the spines and can bend the covers and pages.

Magazines are best stacked flat.

There is some disagreement about whether, when books are standing upright, their spines or their open edges should be touching the side of the box. The Betty Brigade believes it’s safest to touch the open edge of the book to the side of the box, and then pack another section of books “spine-to-spine” against the first section.

Pages should never be touching pages, whether the books are hardback or paperback. If you start another row next to an outward facing row of books, place paper between the rows, and turn the books sideways to the open-faced books.

When pages must face pages, separate them with packing paper.

Don’t pack books too tightly together, or you may damage them when unpacking later. For fragile books, photo albums or first editions, line the box with bubble wrap first. Wrap these volumes in craft or packing paper (not newspaper) and separate them with cardboard to keep them from damaging each other.

Before sealing a box, always cover the top layer with a sheet or two of packing paper.

If you’ll be storing the books for awhile, try to get a climate-controlled storage unit, so the books aren’t subject to high heat or moisture. Also if you have precious books in storage, wrap them with acid-free paper, which won’t rot or discolor over time.

Okay, now we just have to figure out how to use of your World of Warcraft skills…

Judy DiForte is a professional organizer for The Betty Brigade, an Ann Arbor-based concierge company specializing in move coordination, organizing, event planning and pet care. Leave a comment below or email her at

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