Using Archival Techniques for Preservation of Personal Papers and Photographs
Amy J. Davis, MLIS-Archives
Creating a family archive means preserving documents, letters, ephemera and photos for our family to use and as a permanent record of our family for posterity.
• No staples, paperclips or other metal fasteners.
• No newspaper clippings – copy clippings onto acid-free paper and toss. Most newspapers are available on microfilm, fiche, or digitally. If the clippings (or newspapers) are from rare and/or obscure newspapers/areas, then store separate from other papers. This is because acid migrates and you don’t want to damage other papers as seen in yellowing on papers from newsprint.
• Put documents and ephemera in Melinex (a chemically stable polyester) sleeves, acid-free alkaline folders. Polypropylene or polyethylene are also stable materials
• Always make sure your hands are clean, washed or by using alcohol wipes.
• Telegrams are also very acidic and should also be separated from other paper documents.
• Do not use any type of tape, not even “archival” on personal documents that you wish to preserve.
• Store in an interior closet inside of your house. High humidity can lead to “foxing”, i.e. the brown spots found on paper items, or mold.
• Light sensitive items such as watercolors, manuscripts, newsprint and non-print media should be stored away from the light as much as possible to avoid fading and/or yellowing.
• Paper materials should be protected from dust and dirt. Monitor for evidence of rodents and insects, such as silverfish, book lice and book worms, which can eat, soil and damage paper; good housekeeping and environmental conditions will help reduce the threat of these pests.
• Store items flat. Order storage sleeves in the largest size possible to avoid the folding and unfolding of your valuables.
• Do not laminate paper documents
• The Library of Congress link provides information on preservation photocopying and digital preservation.
• Use un-buffered acid free tissue sheets in between scrapbook pages.
• Display copies rather than originals. If you must display the originals, use UV-filtering glass or plastic in the frames.
• Store in an interior closet inside of your house.
• Suitable storage containers are plastic or paper free of sulfur, acids, and peroxides. Don’t use cardboard to pad them unless it is acid-free.
• Always make sure your hands are clean. White gloves are preferable because the salts in our perspiration are damaging to photos.
• Wrap in buffered paper for brittle images, UN-buffered for contemporary prints.
• If having framed, use acid-free matting.
• Keep negatives separate from the prints.
• Cellulose nitrate and acetate negatives are potentially dangerous. If you think that you might have any negatives of these materials, contact a local professional photography printer to find out how to handle them. Cellulose nitrate film was used from 1880-1950 and cellulose acetate film was used up to the 1980’s. However, most film dating from the 1970’s is likely to be polyester based and therefore stable as long as it is stored properly.
• Store color transparencies/slides in acid-free or metal boxes with a baked-on enamel finish or in polypropylene slide pages. Commonly available PVC slide pages, easily identified by their strong plastic odor, should never be used because of their extreme chemical reactivity.
• Place early miniature-cased photographs, including daguerreotypes, ambrotypes and tintypes, carefully into acid-free paper envelopes and house flat; keep loose tintypes in polyester sleeves, or, if flaking is present, in paper enclosures due to the electrostatic charge damage from polyester sleeves on already damaged items.
• Storage of family photographs in albums is often desirable, and many commercially available albums utilize archival-quality materials. Avoid albums constructed of highly colored pages. Never use commercially available "magnetic" or "no stick" albums for the storage of contemporary or historic photographic prints in black-and-white or color. These materials will deteriorate quite quickly over time.
Storage of art pieces requires different methods. Please research before committing to a particular method and materials.
Our knowledge of materials and storage methods change over time. The above methods are current practice for archives and libraries. Please stay aware of changes to keep your personal items preserved properly.
Library of Congress: http://www.loc.gov/preserv/careothr.html Accessed August 20, 2010.
Northeast Document Conservation Center: http://www.nedcc.org/resources/resources.php. Accessed April 20, 2009.
Ellis, Margaret H. The Care of Prints and Drawings. Walnut Creek, CA: Altamira Press, 1995.
Ritzenthaler, Mary Lynn, and Diane Vogt-O’Connor. Photographs: Archival Care and Management. Chicago: Society of American Archivists, 2006.
Taylor, Maureen A. Preserving Your Family Photographs: How to Organize, Present, and Restore Your Precious Family Images. Cincinnati: Betterway Books, 2001.