Preservation Week

This week is National Preservation Week and our sister organization the State Library of North Carolina is doing a series of preservation related posts over on the Government and Heritage Library Blog. Two new things they are talking about as part of that series are their YouTube tutorial about preserving Facebook data and the CINCH (Capture, Ingest, & Checksum) tool, which will help to automate the process of file preservation.

Another of the State Library’s posts gives an excellent handout version of our tips for preserving your own papers and records. Here are some of the most important things to think about:

Environment Matters

  • Keep your temperature and humidity stable.  Ideally, keep your temperature at 72 deg. F. and the relative humidity in the 40-55% range.  Fluctuations in humidity are more damaging than fluctuations in temperature.  No record likes to be too hot, dry, or damp.  If you can maintain a slightly cooler environment (68 deg. F), even better.
  • Monitor conditions in storage areas.  Be prepared to react to seasonal changes, such as high humidity in the summer, with a room dehumidifier.
  • Limit exposure to sunlight or other sources of ultraviolet light.
  • Do not smoke in room where family papers are stored.

Think About Storage

  • Avoid attics, basements, closets or any area with limited air circulation and fluctuating temperatures and humidity.
  • Keep sources of food away from family documents.  Don’t store documents near sources of water, such as washing machines.
  • Avoid oak bookcases or other wooden shelves with formaldehyde (including plywood, chipboard, masonite), or polyurethane paints and varnishes.  These off-gas as they age.  Avoid metal storage furniture unless the finish is baked-on enamel (with no residual smell) or dry application powder coating.
  • If you must use wooden bookshelves, finish them with a sealant such as latex paint or air drying enamel and allow to dry for several weeks to ensure all sealant odors have disappeared.  Avoid oil-based paints as a sealant.
  • Shelve like sized books together on the shelf to provide adequate support around each book.  Book ends assist in ensuring the books are adequately supported. Make sure books are snug, but not so tight on the shelf that removal causes wear on the book.  Store fragile or oversized books on one side.  Never store a book spine-up or the pages could separate from the binding.
  • Select acid-free (pH of 7) or buffered (slightly basic) storage materials for loose documents.  This includes folders and boxes.  Document boxes with lids provide protection from dust and light.  Don’t stuff folders or boxes, they should be full so that no folders or documents slouch in the box.  Acid-free spaces or a rolled acid-free folder ensure the folders are snug in the box and not slouching (if the box isn’t full).  Oversized, drop-front boxes provide similar protection for larger materials.
  • Select acid-free boxes and dividers for storage of loose photographic prints.  Neutral plastics should be utilized for use in photographic albums and other storage materials.  Acceptable plastics should be polypropylene or polyethylene.  All plastics should be PVC free (polyvinylchloride) and pass the PAT (photographic activity test).
  • Use photographic albums that contain pocket pages made of the above mentioned acceptable plastics.  Photographs also can be placed in albums (with acid-free pages) using photo corners made of acceptable plastic. Never glue photographs in an album or use the magnetic albums with sticky sheets and a plastic top sheet.

Care and Handling

  • Provide yourself with an adequate work space for using your materials.  Keep your workspace clean.
  • Clean your hands before working with your materials.  Wear gloves when handling fragile materials or photographs and negatives.
  • Remove books from the shelf by grasping the spine, never pull on the headcap (top part of the spine).  Support books and documents with both hands at all times.
  • Remove paperclips, rubber bands, and staples from loose documents prior to storage.  Staples should be removed carefully by bending up the two ends and gently removing the staple.  Never use staple removers because they could tear fragile paper.
  • Unfold loose documents and store them flat, if possible, or with a minimum of folds.  Paper is weakest along the folds.  Never force open a tightly folded item, instead, seek conservation assistance.
  • Never repair tears or holes with any pressure-sensitive tape (Scotch tape), glues, or other adhesives.  Seek conservation assistance if a document needs repairs.  Never laminate a document.
  • Newsprint should be segregated from other papers because is often stains adjacent papers.  Copy newsprint to acid-free papers and destroy the originals or interleave the originals with acid-free paper and use the copies as reference tools.
  • Make use copies of materials (scan or Xerox) one time and utilize those use copies for distribution to family members.  This reduces handling on originals.
  • Avoid framing original documents, frame a scanned, color copy instead.  If you choose to frame an original, use acid-free mats and a window mat or Japanese paper hinge for attachment.  Don’t let the document touch the glass.  Avoid rubber cements or glues to attach anything to a mat.  Select ultraviolet filtered glass or plexiglass.  Use a reputable framer and specify your wishes for each step of framing.

Further reading

The internet contains a wealth of information on preservation tips for most types of records.  Investigate printed and on-line resources such as:

Other websites that give tips useful for Preservation Week and any other time: