Don’t Over Handle
While you don’t have to keep documents in storage forever, handling old or fragile documents too much can cause damage over time. It is best to minimize use or display of delicate materials to only what is necessary. To accomplish this, make sure all items in storage are properly boxed and labeled to avoid sifting through documents to find the one you want. It’s also important to train anyone who is to handle fragile materials in the correct methods of use. If the document or book needs extra support in use, such as a V-cradle to avoid breaking the spine of a book, make sure those are readily available.
Be careful, though. Not all paper products can tolerate an alkaline reserve. Architectural blueprints, for example, can react negatively to alkaline and should be stored in unbuffered, pH neutral storage containers. Always check to see how your paper type will react to an alkaline reserve.
A more specialized way to deal with acidic paper is called deacidification. Through this process, the document or book is exposed to magnesium oxide to neutralize the acids in the paper and sometimes to infuse an alkaline reserve to prevent future acid build up. Documents or books that are already severely deteriorated may not be stable enough to go through deacidification. It is also a far more expensive measure and may not be appropriate for small or personal collections.
Paper documents placed on display should be prepared carefully, especially if the display will be ongoing or involve extra handling. Light, temperature, and humidity should be controlled as much as possible to avoid accelerating the deterioration of the item. A room kept below normal room temperature with about 35% humidity is ideal, and items should be kept out of direct light. Minimal light is best practice.
Not all collections are meant to be displayed to the public, though. Large private collections may be for personal use only, but sifting through paper envelopes or folders can make enjoying the collection tiresome. For collections that are to be viewed often or routinely, archival-quality plastic sleeves can be a good alternative for storage and access, especially for photographs. This allows the item to be viewed without being directly handled.
There are three types of plastic enclosures suitable for long-term preservation. The best, and subsequently most expensive, is archival polyester. It provides excellent viewing and has rigid support to protect the document or photograph. A more economical solution is polypropylene. It is just as clear, but lacks the rigid support of polyester. The last option, polyethylene, is also economical, but doesn’t have the same rigidity or clarity as the other two.
In addition to physical preservation of a collection, digitization allows continued use of books and documents without risking any further damage through handling. By digitizing your collection, items can be viewed and studied without handling the original physical document. This allows fragile or already damaged items to remain safely in storage. It also facilitates sharing your collection, if you so choose. Digital copies can be placed on a website or cloud storage for others to access over the internet.
Digitization can also improve the ability to search a collection. Through metadata and optical character resolution (OCR) an entire collection can be searched by keywords, dates, exact phrases, and more. Such easy organization and recall gives the collection new usefulness to all who access it.
No matter the condition of your collection, there are always ways to help prevent further deterioration. Start your journey by discovering the types of materials in your collection and the specific actions you can take to protect them.