You or someone in your family may have documents and photographs that hold the history of your family. Often times, people are worried that this information could be lost or damaged and want to know how to preserve this history for future generations. To begin to answer how you can save your cherished treasures, we’ve put together some steps you can take to preserve these important items.
This post will explore Handling and Preservation, and our next post will cover Metadata and Digitization. Each of these topics can always be more deeply explored, and we will refer you to sources where you will be able to find more information. These posts will give general recommendations about: handling, digitization, preservation, formatting, and digital preservation for personal collections.
Before you start: Handling Tips
- Have a clear space to work and avoid drinking and eating while handling items
- Wash your hands, do not apply lotions because they can stain paper or photographs
- When handling photographs, take care to not put your finger on the photo, leaving a fingerprint mark. If you prefer, you can use gloves
- Avoid folding the material
- If possible, remove any materials that degrade over time, such as: metal paper clips, rubber bands, and tape
For more information on handling, this Frequently Asked Questions from the Library of Congress may be helpful.
If you did want to digitize your items and create metadata for them, it would be good to do so between the handling and preserving stages. If you do not want to create a digital copy of your material, you can proceed with the preservation. Otherwise, we recommend that you read our post on Metadata and Digitization.
If you want to eventually display the materials, consider scanning the items and printing copies so that you can display the copies and keep the original in a safe environment. Any kind of light can alter the original and cause degradation, such as causing the colours to fade.
Keep the originals:
- Away from light (minimal exposure, the less the better!), water and any potential sources of water (pipes, windows), and food. This will avoid the proliferation of mold and help prevent insects and rodents from causing damage.
- Stored on a shelf in a room with controlled humidity (between 20-65%) and temperature (cold room). This way, you can avoid problems with potential floods or insect activity and you will slow the deterioration of the material. If not possible, at least avoid keeping the materials on the floor in a damp basement, garage or hot attic.
- Inside proper containers, made of lignin-free and acid-free materials. One option is to use acid-free envelopes or sleeves made of polyester, polypropylene or polyethylene.
When storing documents, do not over or under stuff the box, as both will cause materials to bend or fold. If you do not have enough items for a box, use extra paper to prevent items from flopping over or moving around inside due to excess of space.
If you have photos and want to store them in albums: use the ones that have stable plastic envelopes made of polyester, polypropylene or polyethylene; a binding like spiral, ring binders, post or clamp binding, or even sewn binding; and a cover made of stable plastic, leather or cloth. Another option is to use corners made of acid-free paper or stable plastic to hold the photos into the paper.
Be careful when handling improperly stored materials
Mold can be dangerous to your health, so avoid contact with materials that contain mold. Try to move the items to a room with less humidity in order to slow the mold growth. Depending on the value of the material, look for a conservator who can clean the items for you.
If your material is infested with insects, get in touch with a conservator. If you prefer, you can try to put the materials inside a plastic bag (Ziploc type) and leave them in your freezer for a few days to kill the insects. Note that the freezer’s humidity can cause deterioration if the items are not completely sealed.
- Care, handling, and storage of photographs
- How to preserve family papers and photographs
- Technical guidelines for digitizing cultural heritage materials