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.
- The Library of Congress Collections Care website
- The Northeast Document Conservation Center’s Preservation Leaflets