By Lon Maxwell, Reference Department
People amass stuff. We are all hoarders of one type or another; we just prefer to be called collectors or connoisseurs. We tuck our prized collections away in corners of closets, in attics, in garages and occasionally in storage facilities because we cherish these items. We want to keep them as mementos, memories or keepsakes to show our descendants and maybe have those people love them the same. The question is: are we storing them properly? We want to save these pieces of who we are for the future, but are they going to make it to the future? Libraries have been worrying about this for ages and there are many great places to find information on preserving your collections. Actually, there is too much information out there so here we will pull together the most important as well as the easiest steps for preserving your materials such as books, newspapers, magazines, comic books, film, slides, negatives, magnetic tape (both audio and video), records and even a little on documents and art.
Once again, cleanliness is essential. Clean hands, or even archivist gloves, and a clean workspace are ideal for going through your old photographs. Ideally, photos should be stored at 40 degrees or less in a location with 30 to 40% humidity. This is very specific because the stability of modern color photos degrades with heat and according to the preservation department of the Library of Congress, “Relative humidity is the single most important factor in preserving most photographic prints.” Never let adhesives come in contact with photographic prints and only mount them on acid free cardstock.
If you are dealing with a photo that has deteriorated or if you are working with an older format like tin or daguerreotypes you will probably want to consult a professional. The American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works has an online directory of conservators to help you find one in your area.
Films, Slides and Negatives
Film and slides contain cellulose, an organic substance, and as such are subject to decay. Temperature and humidity are mentioned here time and again, but here it is most important. The Association of Moving Image Archivists (AMIA) recommends storage at 40-50° and 20-40% relative humidity. They also suggest freezing film, but this is for long term storage and should be done in the proper manner, starting in a middle to low humidity environment, packaging the material and freezing them for very long term. This is not a thing you want to do if you are planning on getting these items out next week or even next month. These materials are the best case for digital transfer. There are many services out there that can help you get these materials digitized for future use and reproduction.
Magnetic Tape Recordings (reel to reel, 8-Track, cassette and Video Tape)
When you are working with magnetic recordings storage should be considered. While demagnetization is unlikely, it can happen so avoid storing your material near large machinery and electrical transformers. Handle reel to reel tapes from the edge and center hole only. Grasping the reel itself to hard can break the reel or crush the delicate tape. Any kind of cassette should only be handled by the outside edges. Do not touch the spools. Store them in a cool place with lower to mid-level humidity.
Other Audio Sources (Records, Wax Cylinders, CDs)
Never mess with the groove. When handling any of these older recordings keep your fingers confined to the label for records, the center hole for CDs, and for the truly old cylinders, just the edges. The grooves are where the recorded material is read by the needle or laser and damage will come from your fingerprints and any dirt on your hands. They should also be stored upright with dividers every six inches to support them in cool dry places. Always allow these materials to reach room temperature in the room where they are to be played before using them if they are stored at a low temperature. Always store like sized material together. Make sure manufacturers cleaning instructions are followed for all playback devices.
Most people do not have a Monet in their house or a painting from the Dutch masters in their office waiting room, but with art there is no telling what will become valuable. For forty years the Jesuit house in Dublin, Ireland had a painting hanging in their parlor. In the 1990s it was determined to be a lost Caravaggio. You never know what may come of the paintings on your walls, so it never hurts to take care of them properly.
As with every other type of material, cleanliness is the first and easiest step. Make sure that you handle paintings by the sides of the frame, not the painting itself, and have enough people for the job. Dust your paintings with “a clean, soft, natural-hair artists’ brush (3.5cm to 5cm tip)” in one direction if there is no peeling or cracking evident in the paint according to the Smithsonian Institution. Display your art where there is a little exposure to UV light and as little fluctuation in temperature and humidity as possible and avoid extremes in both. Finally, make sure art is hung with the proper hardware and check those hooks, wires and brackets periodically to make sure they are in good condition.
By Lon Maxwell, Reference Department
People amass stuff. We are all hoarders of one type or another; we just prefer to be called collectors or connoisseurs. We tuck our prized collections away in corners of closets, in attics, in garages and occasionally in storage facilities because we cherish these items. We want to keep them as mementos, memories or keepsakes to show our descendants and maybe have those people love them the same. The question is: are we storing them properly? We want to save these pieces of who we are for the future, but are they going to make it to the future? Libraries have been worrying about this for ages and there are many great places to find Information on preserving your collections. Actually, there is too much information out there so here we will pull together the most important as well as the easiest steps for preserving your materials such as books, newspapers, magazines, comic books, film, slides, negatives, magnetic tape (both audio and video), records and even a little on documents and art.
This is a library blog so books come first. The easiest and first step in preservation is careful use. Make sure your hands are clean, that you are reading in a clean area free of food or drink and that you are not forcing the book open to 180°. Never use glues, rubber bands or adhesive tape on books. Never dog ear the pages or mark you place with paperclips or acidic inserts. When storing your books, try to put upright books of similar size together so that they support each other and don’t allow them to lean at an angle. Books should be kept in a cool room with low humidity (<35%) and as little exposure to direct, harsh light as possible. Avoid vents and registers as well as rooms like attics which experience extreme temperature changes. Clean your books and cases regularly. Finally when you remove a book from the shelf, grab the book on both sides of the spine at the midpoint. Do not grab it from the top.
Saving the newspaper is a great way to remember a great moment in your, or humanity’s, history. Whether it is a paper from your child’s birth, VE Day, the moon landing or the election of the first African American president, newspapers show a segment of time contemporary to the event. Once again, the rules of cleanliness are paramount. No dirty hands or coffee cups here. Newspapers to be preserved should be opened flat on a surface large enough to support the entire paper. Do not fold the paper against any existing folds. When folding the newspaper back to store it always use the existing folds and keep the edges aligned as much as possible. Newspapers should be stored flat and in protected boxes with some kind of supporting material. Like comics and magazines, these boxes and boards should be acid and lignin free. Storage space should have the same conditions as that needed for books.
For the most part the documents that we have now that we want to preserve are those that have already come down to us from generations past. Many of these are already preserved, but even more are not and have already begun to deteriorate. Think about these things and what they are and represent. Discharge papers from the civil war or world war two, your great grandparent’s marriage license, an ancestor’s immigration papers. These are great things to have, but remember that someday, you may be someone’s great grandparent. Now is the time to preserve your documents, before they start to degrade. The basic rules for books still apply to documents (as well as manuscripts, drawings, prints, posters, and maps). In addition, you want to make sure any marks or inscriptions that you make are done in pencil only and on a clean surface to avoid pressing dirt or other contaminants into the paper. Paper items should be stored flat and supported like periodicals, unless the size of the object makes this prohibitive. At that point rolled in an archival tube is the safest storage option.
MAGAZINES & COMICS
One of the reasons that those Superman, Batman and Captain America comics from the 1930s and 40s are so valuable is that there are not many surviving. Everyone has heard the old, “I’d be a millionaire if my Mom hadn’t thrown away my comic collection” shtick, but this is far from true. These were comics. They cost 10₵, because they were made cheaply. No one expected them to be kept for seventy or eighty years. Modern comics are better, but still need preserving. The rules for books apply here as well, with a little modification. Never bend a comic back upon itself. It weakens the spine and you may be beaten by nerds. Comics should be stored in supportive enclosures. That means polybags, backing boards and archive boxes. You want to make sure the boards and boxes are ph. neutral and lignin free. Otherwise the very things protecting you comics can be causing their slow disintegration. Magazines should be treated in exactly the same way although those with glued bindings (similar to what you see on National Geographic) should be treated like books for the purpose of reading them. Do not open these to a flat position.
by Jason Gavin, Special Collections Librarian
The annual American Library Association’s Preservation Week is fast approaching! This year it is April 27th to May 3rd, and it’s a great time to pick up some great tips and tricks to preserve your family treasures! Hop over to the preservation week website to print out a free bookmark with great general preservation tips, or check here for preservation tips for specific materials – books, paper, photographs, electronic media, comic books, textiles, as well as general care tips for a collection or how to make a time capsul. Library of Congress also has some great tips for saving your stuff here!