Are Your Archives at Risk?

In my book, Creating Family Archives: A Step-by-Step Guide for Saving Your Memories for Future Generations, I discuss the techniques that archivists use to protect historical materials from the ravages of time. I find that it’s also helpful to discuss what can cause damage to your archival items. Many hazards are obvious, but others may surprise non-professionals. 

Here are the major threats to papers, photographs, and other physical items:

  • Improper handling, either handling the documents roughly or by having them come into contact with the natural dirt and oils in your skin

  • Fluctuating or extreme temperatures

  • Fluctuating or extreme relative humidity levels, especially high humidity

  • High levels of or frequent exposure to light, especially ultraviolet rays.

  • Pollutants such as tobacco, fireplace, or cooking smoke; dirt and dust; urban air pollution

  • Proximity to highly-acidic documents that migrate like newspaper clippings

  • Harmful fasteners, like metal clips or rubber bands, and adhesives

  • Storage in folded, creased, or rolled conditions

  • Storage in acidic containers or adhesive albums, like magnetic photo albums

  • Storage or transport in positions that cause falling, bending, breakage, or pressing

  • Mold, mildew, rodents, insects, and animals in general

  • Lamination

  • Static electricity

  • Improper labeling or packaging

  • Spillage of food, beverages, or other contaminants near documents

  • Natural disasters such as floods, fire, and leaks

  • Theft, vandalism, unwanted sale, dispersal, or disposal

Some documents are particularly susceptible to damage. Special risk materials include: 

  • Newspaper clippings

  • Highly-acidic papers such as telegrams, and scrapbook and photo album pages

  • Charcoal, pastel, chalk, or heavily applied pencil drawings or writings

  • Scrapbooks, baby books, and other mixed-media albums

  • Rare published books

  • Photographs

  • Folded or rolled documents

  • Documents with fading ink

  • Ephemera, because they were created for short-term use

  • Tapes, discs, and other recording media

  • Digital items, especially if no backup systems exist

Have I scared you? Lists like this are what keep archivists up at night! If you are interested in learning quick, easy, and affordable ways to avoid these risks and protect your family legacy, Creating Family Archives: A Step-by-Step Guide for Saving Your Memories for Future Generations will provide the answers. 

By Margot Note

Visit Margot’s website to learn more:

What are you doing to make history?

To learn the preservation secrets used by libraries, archives, and museums to protect their priceless materials (that you can also use for your family heritage items) read Margot’s book:

Creating Family Archives: A Step-by-Step Guide to Saving Your Memories for Future Generations   By Margot Note

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