By Anne Foster
Faded photographs, yellowing newspaper clippings, stained letters, crumbling books - these images call to mind grandmother's attic. As a child, you probably cuddled close as grandma told you stories of long ago, illustrated by these decaying remnants of the past. Unfortunately, if these precious family mementos continue to be cared for in the same manner, you will not be able to share them with your own grandchildren.
Providing a moderate, stable environment is crucial. Extreme variations in either temperature or relative humidity can cause warping or cracking, invite mold and insects, and accelerate aging. A temperature of 70 degrees F and 45% relative humidity are considered ideal. Even more important is a stable environment. For example, a constant 78 F and 30% relative humidity is better than frequent fluctuations.
Paper and photographs are also damaged by light. Both natural and artificial light will fade ink, photographs, and some paper. Paper containing lignin, like newspaper, will darken almost immediately in direct light. Storage in dark or dimly lit areas is preferable.
Air quality is another important factor. Mold spores, dust, and other chemical pollutants will eat or abrade your documents. Air conditioning filters must be properly maintained. Materials should also be cleaned regularly with non-oily dust cloths.
Common storage areas such as attics, garages, and basements are often the worst places to store your unique family mementos. These areas experience the widest variations of temperature and humidity, are cleaned infrequently, and often contain air-polluting machinery like cars or woodworking equipment. An interior closet, away from outside walls, is a cheap, easy solution. With the door closed, it will be dark, less dusty, and temperature and relative humidity fluctuations are reduced.
Preparing collections for storage requires the following steps:
1. Gently unfold and flatten papers, removing letters from envelopes if necessary.
2. Carefully remove all paper clips, rubber bands, and other extraneous materials. Most metal fasteners rust and rubber bands deteriorate into sticky residue. As standard staple removers further damage documents, it is better to use a small metal spatula available from several archival and library supply companies.
3. Replace newsprint and fax copies with photocopies on alkaline paper. Newsprint is highly acidic and will stain adjacent materials. Fax paper is similarly unstable.
4. To label papers or photographs use only No. 2 pencil and write gently on the verso or in the margin. Ballpoint and felt-tip pens bleed and permanently stain.
5. Store papers and photographs in archival quality file folders, albums, and boxes. Common cardboard boxes and file folders contain acids that will prematurely age materials. Most readily available photo albums contain unstable materials and damaging adhesives. Several companies offer safe, acid-free storage alternatives.
People often cause the most harm to historic materials. Even the cleanest hands carry natural oils that will stain and corrode, especially photographs. Photographic supply stores carry inexpensive gloves that offer ideal protection. If frequent handling or display is necessary, it is best to make photocopies or photographic reproductions and save the originals from wear and accidents.
Above all, do no harm. Do not do anything that cannot be reversed. Using household glue or tape to repair tears will lead to more deterioration, staining, and possible loss of information. Lamination allows acids to multiply unchecked. If removing staples or unfolding a letter causes the paper to tear, stop immediately. The most fragile or severely damaged items may require professional conservation treatment. While sometimes costly, conservators can repair and protect your prized items, whether their value is monetary or sentimental.
For more information about preservation, names of suppliers, or a list of conservators, contact the Sharlot Hall Museum Archives and Library. Hours of operation are Tuesday through Friday from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., or simply call (928) 445-3122 Ext.15.
Anne Foster is Assistant Archivist at the Sharlot Hall Museum.
Sharlot Hall Museum Photograph Call Number:(document preservation) Reuse only by permission.
Paper and photographs are damaged by light. Both natural and artificial light will fade ink, photographs and some paper. Preservation is best achieved using microfilm, proper storage containers and controlled environment.
Sharlot Hall Museum Photograph Call Number:(processing a collection) Reuse only by permission.
An archives volunteer processes a collection presented to the museum by properly documenting, cataloging and preserving all the elements of the collection. All items (letters, papers, photographs, artifacts, etc.) are then prepared according to proper archival technique for storage in the archives.
Sharlot Hall Museum Photograph Call Number:(DSCN0955) Reuse only by permission.
After the items in the archives are properly prepared, they are stored in the recesses of the archives and library and are available to anyone doing research.