The best protection for your books, papers, photographs, and
prints is a "safe" environment: moderate temperature
and relative humidity, clean air and good air circulation, no
natural or fluorescent light, and good housekeeping.
Avoid powerful sources of heat, damp, and pollution; don't store your
valuable books, photos, and papers in attics or basements or near water
sources like washing machines or bathrooms. Think about what's in the
room above your heirlooms, too.
Heat causes damage. Don't hang valuable objects over radiators, heat-producing
appliances or the fireplace. Books you want to read 20 years from now
shouldn't be shelved on the mantle, the window sill or the radiator.
Light causes fading and other damage. Keep photos and art (prints,
watercolors, and other works on paper) in the dark as much as possible.
Don't put valuable books and paper where they'll get direct sun or bright
light of any kind. Hallways or other rooms without windows are best. Install
and use shades and heavy curtains where you can't avoid windows.
Use a museum-quality (fully "acid-free") mat and frame to
display any valuable photo or artwork -- even children's drawings. Indoor
pollution is a growing problem in energy-conscious spaces with good insulation,
and causes rapid damage to paper. The glass or plastic glazing of a frame
will keep pollution and dirt away, and the item's edges will not be damaged
by handling or tacks.
If you want your wedding pictures (or photos of any event) to last
for your grandchildren, have the photographer take a roll of black-and-white
photos. Video, color slides and most color prints have a limited life
If you want to keep a clipping from the newspaper for the longterm,
have it photocopied on to buffered paper (e.g. Xerox XXV Century Bond
or Howard Permalife). The copy will last far longer than the original.
Letters, clippings, and other documents you want to preserve should
be stored unfolded in buffered folders. Folding and unfolding breaks paper
and can cause damage as items are removed and replaced. If you can't find
buffered folders, use a sheet of buffered paper (e.g. Xerox XXV Century
Bond or Howard Permalife) at the front and back of a folder.
When storing photos in an album, use "photo" or "archival" mounting
corners (available from photography suppliers or stamp dealers), not glues
or self-sealing plastic, which can stick to or react with your pictures.
To remove the musty smell from old books, make sure they are dry. Put
them in a cool, dry space for a couple of days or put them outside on
a table in the sun on a dry, breezy day for a couple of hours. If the
musty smell remains, put them in an open container (e.g. polyethylene
pail, box) inside a large, closed container (e.g. clean, dry garbage pail,
box) with an open box of baking soda or a pot-pourri. Do not allow the
deodorizer to touch the books. Leave for a few days in a cool place, checking
once a day to make sure no mold is growing. Remove to a safe storage environment.
To remove staples or old paperclips from documents (especially if the
fastener is rusty), slide a very thin piece of stiff plastic (e.g. polyester,
polypropylene) under the fastener on both sides of the document. Slide
the paperclip off the plastic or use a pair of tweezers or a thin knife
to bend the ends of the staple up and pry it out. The plastic will protect
the paper from abrasion and your tools. Staple pullers tear paper.
These hints were produced by the Northeast Document Conservation Center,
a regional, not-for-profit organization founded in 1973 to specialize in
the conservation treatment of paper and related artifacts such as books,
maps, and photographs. The Center provides microfilming and consulting services
to libraries, museums, and historical societies and is a source of telephone
assistance in the event of an emergency affecting paper-based collections.
They welcome inquiries. Their address is: