Saturday, October 11, 2014

Caring For Our Family Treasures

Georgia Camp Vaughan
photo from collection of LuAnne Holladay

Recently I attended an informative workshop about ways to preserve our family treasures - photos, newspaper clippings, scrapbooks, and ephemera we find ourselves locating or receiving.  East Tennessee State University's Archives of Appalachia hosted this public workshop, and two archivists from the center provided us with a lot of useful information.  I returned home with so many simple, helpful tips that I wanted to share some of them with you.
  • Storage of our family treasures:  
    • It turns out that the same things that make us uncomfortable are probably not good for our family treasures either.  Keeping these items in a conditioned air space is what they need.  No storage in a damp, unfinished basement or a sweltering attic.  No leaving a scrapbook open where it receives a daily dose of afternoon sun.
    • Bugs, especially silverfish and roaches, love old documents and newspapers.  Once again, storage of our treasures away from damp areas may be helpful.  And just like in our home, if we see evidence of these creatures, work to get rid of them as soon as possible.  I remember once having to store a number of rescued photos and documents in a sealed bin with little plastic roach traps before I feel free to even look at them while wearing latex gloves.  Turns out that wasn't a totally awful temporary plan.
    • Plastic bins or cardboard shoe boxes are not good for long term permanent storage.  The plastic bins can retain moisture while shoe boxes can allow acid from the cardboard to leach into our documents and photos.  Archival boxes are best for permanently storing these special items.
  • Family photos:
    • Handle loose photographs by the outside edges so that we don't leave fingerprints or transfer damaging oils, etc. to the pictures.
    • If we choose to frame these wonderful photos, mount them on acid free paper and use a mat to keep the picture from adhering to the glass.
    • It is OK to write on the back of your photo with a soft pencil (not a pen) so that others will know the people or circumstances of a picture.  Better yet, if photos are stored in acid free envelopes or photo sleeves, you can write identifying information on the sleeve or attach an identifying label to the sleeve; just do the writing before you put the photo into the sleeve.
    • When you scan old photos, scan them at a high resolution and save as a .tif file.  This is the most stable file format.  Later, you can always work with the .tif file using photo editing software and store the edited photo as a .jpeg file.
    • I have a number of old family photo albums that have the pictures glued onto heavy black paper.  The best way to protect these photos, I learned, is to insert sheets of acid free paper or high quality copier paper between the photo pages.  That should help prevent further damage to the photos. 
  • Newspaper clippings:
    • The acid in newspaper will cause it to turn yellow, and silverfish LOVE paper.  The best suggestions were to photocopy those old newspaper articles or keep them in archival sleeves.
A real highlight to the workshop was the archivists looking at the family treasures we attendees had brought to the workshop.  Each one seemed to provide an opportunity for us to learn from each other.  In addition, we received a "Guide to Collections Care" provided by Gaylord Archival Services.

Lessons learned:  None of us become an archivist in those few hours, but the workshop did serve to help us be aware of simple things we can do (or not do) that will make a difference in the condition of our family treasures.  This workshop reminded us that our responsibility to these family treasures is the time-honored phrase, "first, do no harm".  It looks like I'll be spending some time in my attic next week, finding better storage places for some old photos and documents.

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