Preserving Personal Collections
Many people have personal archives - letters, diaries, photographs, scrapbooks, home movies, and so on. Archivists are often asked by members of the public for advice on the best way to preserve these materials. Some basic principles to keep in mind:
Stable environment: Rapid changes in temperature and humidity can cause damage. Store collections in an area where conditions remain constant - avoid basements, attics, or garages.
Other hazards: Look out for water pipes, heat sources, flood-prone areas, etc. before choosing a place to store your collections. Keep items off the floor in case of flooding. Light is damaging to many materials; keep collections out of direct light if possible. Look out for dirt, mold, and pests.
Reversibility: Don't do anything that can't be reversed later (for example, punching holes or laminating).
Storage: Use archival storage materials (acid-free boxes and folders; safe plastics like polyester, polyethylene, polypropylene). Beware of the overused (and often inaccurate) "archival" label on product packaging; buy from reputable vendors to ensure the products are actually safe for your materials.
For more detailed information on preserving various types of materials, visit these websites:
- Preserving Family Treasures (Library of Congress)
- Caring for Your Family Archives (National Archives)
- How to Care for... (Canadian Conservation Institute)
- Don't Throw it Away! A Manual for Small Organizations (University of Illinois at Chicago)