It’s Preservation Week! — Be your family’s archivist

26 04 2011

You know those dirty boxes in your attic — the ones that have the old family pictures?

What about grandma’s diary in the dusty shoebox?

Or how about that old scrapbook that is lying on your living room coffee table?

These items are all part of a rich history that contributes to our knowledge of the past. Have you ever thought of how to preserve these pieces?

This week, April 24-30, archivists as well as people around the nation are celebrating National Preservation Week.  This week is dedicated to raising awareness about the preservation of personal and shared collections. Anyone can become involved and anyone can help! Take a few moments to become your family’s archivist and search for those hidden gems in mom and dad’s basement or grandma and grandpa’s attic. Your family papers are unique. No one else has those same exact letters, diaries, or photographs.  Even if your relatives are not rich and famous, your family documents and photos are your own personal treasures and should be treated as such. A little bit of preservation effort now can allow these materials to be around for future generations to enjoy.

Here are some general guidelines for storing and handling family treasures:

  • Store all treasures in a stable, cool, and dry environment – Attics and basements are two of the worst areas of the house to store documents because the relative humidity fluctuates greatly. If you have to store them in attics or basements place them in plastic tubs or bins and ensure that lids are secured tightly.
  • Try not to place any family treasures in direct sunlight – Sunlight and Fluorescent lights emit high amounts of UV radiation which causes fading


  • Shelve upright and support by book ends if needed, so the volumes aren’t leaning at an angle
  • Store large volumes lying flat – if you don’t have room to lay them flat shelve them on their spine, not on the front edge
  • Don’t pull on the top of the spine to remove the book from the shelf, instead push in the book son either side to remove the book in the middle
  • Don’t press the pages of a book down to make the book lie flat if there is resistance by the spine

Paper Documents:

  • Store paper items as flat as possible, not folded up
  • Acid-free file folders are best for storage
  • Avoid pressure-sensitive tapes, such as Scotch-tape as they can cause irreversible disfigurement of paper and alteration of inks
  • Do not laminate. This process is not reversible.


  • Do not store newspaper next to other types of documents or photographs. The paper is very acidic and will cause other documents to become yellow as the newspaper ages
  • If you need to store newspapers among other objects, put an acid-free buffer sheet between the newspaper and other materials.


  • Avoid touching prints with your fingers as the oils in your hands can cause damage. Use gloves, or handle prints along the edges.
  • Store photos in protective enclosures to keep out gritty dirt and dust that can scratch images
  • Avoid pressure-sensitive tapes and rubber cement
  • Use soft pencil to write on the backs of photos. Avoid ink.
  • Store all prints and negatives in acid free boxes. If possible, keep negatives separate from print materials.
  • Storage for family photographs in albums is often desirable, and many commercially available albums utilize archival-quality materials. 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 quickly over time and could damage photographs.

Are you interested in scrapbooking? Check out these tips:

  • Do not cut up original photographs for scrapbooks – if you want to cut out pictures, make a color copy.
  • Identify people, places and dates in visible areas. A scrapbook loses its historical value if no one has any idea what events and people are captured within it.
  • Don’t use magnetic or no-stick pages for your scrapbook. Photo corners are the archivists’ preferred method for attaching photos to scrapbook pages.
  • Don’t use original newspaper in scrapbooks. Newspaper is extremely acidic and will stain materials that touch it.
  • Consider using page protectors, especially if you like to sue different kinds of material together.

Want more information on how to conserve objects?

Visit the American Institution for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works’ guide here!

Good luck!




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