Six weeks ago the neighbors down the street lost their house and all their belongings in a devastating fire. It broke my heart. It also reminded me that I have not protected all of my documents, books, and photographs. Here are some tips of how to protect your keepsakes.
- Reproduce vulnerable or unique images (digitize or photocopy) and use the reproductions; Find a person (family member) or place to store copies of all your precious items besides yourself in case of fire, storm damage, etc.
- Remember damage is cumulative and irreversible
- Organization from the beginning keeps down the wear and tear of the items
- Handle as little and as gently as possible
- Be sure hands are freshly washed when handling the items
- Never apply pressure-sensitive tapes to valuable documents; Magnetic and self-adhesive albums can damage and should not be used; This also means no sticky notes
- Do not use paper clips, staples, or rubber bands when organizing documents, photographs or books
- If necessary to mark on photograph or document use a soft lead pencil on reverse of image
- Paper fibers, albumen, and gelatin binders attract insects and rodents; Keep the area clean
- Exposure to light causes fading; Keep light levels low and eliminate daylight whenever possible
- Keep objects in a cool, dry environment; Warm conditions accelerate deterioration, and encourage mold and insect activity; Hot and dry conditions will embrittle leather and paper; Do not expose to rapid changes or extreme temperature and humidity; Damp conditions bring mold
- Avoid storing in the attic, basement or along outside walls of buildings
- Fragile documents may be placed in polyester sleeves; Plastic and paper enclosures should be free of sulfur, acids, and peroxides; Individual enclosures are the best protection for damaged and fragile items; Use enclosures that will protect from dust and light and provide support
- Store cased objects (daguerreotypes and ambrotypes) in their original cases with addition of custom-made, four-flap paper enclosures to reduce wear and tear on cases
- Store negatives and prints in separate locations
- Storage should allow at least 4 inches of space between boxes and walls, ceilings, and floors for circulation of air
- Books should stand vertically; Use bookends to keep them standing; Do not pack books on shelves; Do not push books to back of shelf to keep good air circulation; Large oversized books are best laid horizontally
- If disaster occurs, protect collection by covering area with plastic sheeting or remove them from the affected area; Don’t let moisture get trapped in area
- Broken, torn, or cracked materials: If support is damaged, place in polyester sleeve with archival board support; if photograph has flaking binder layer, place in shallow box, not sleeve; do not use pressure-sensitive tapes for torn photographs
- Soiled photographs or negatives: Do not clean with erasers; brush soiled photographs with clean soft brush; do not clean with water or solvent based cleaner
These books are available in the Plano Public Library System for more help:
Long, Jane S. and Richard W. Caring for Your Family Treasures: A Concise Guide to Caring for Your Cherished Belongings. Heritage Preservation. New York, NY: Harry N. Abrams, Inc. 2000.
McClure, Rhonda R. Digitizing Your Family History: Easy Methods for Preserving Your Heirloom Documents, Photos, Home Movies, and More in a Digital Format. Cincinnati, OH: Family Tree Books. 2004.
Taylor, Maureen A. Preserving Your Family Photographs: How to Organize, Present, and Restore Precious Family Images. Cincinnati, OH: Betterway Books. 2001.
Williams, Don. Saving Stuff: How to Care for and Preserve your Collectibles, Heirlooms, and other Prized Possessions. New York, NY: Fireside. 2005
Northeast Document Conservation Center. http://www.nedcc.org/resources/leaflets.list.php
American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works “Caring For Your Treasures—Guides for Taking Care of Your Personal Heritage” http://aic.stanford.edu/library/online/brochures/photos.html