Welcome to Preservation Week!
I spend a fair bit of time helping churches deal with how to care for their historical records. Much of what I tell that audience can apply to what you might be keeping in your own home. There are several things you can do that cost you little to nothing and will do a lot to keep your stash of letters and pictures from unnecessary risk.
Here are the top 3 things to get you going in the right direction:
1. Be Proactive.
You can avoid a problem before you start if you review where you are keeping your valuable papers and if there is a high probability of that space being a problem, relocate before Grandma's old love letters are a mouse nest or under a foot of water. We try to find out of the way places to keep our stuff. Basement, attic, garage are the trifecta. They live there for a reason, usually — because those are not great living areas, because you don't have anywhere else to put them. We make due with the space we have.
Whenever possible, minimize exposure to overly moist air or potential water sources: sump pumps, pipes, leaky rooves, flooding basements, drafty garages. Minimize risk and check in now and then to make sure they're still OK, not after the disaster has struck.
2. Box It.
Create a barrier between your precious documents and the elements. Sunlight is the enemy for healthy skin for humans and healthy paper for archives: both get burned. Keeping things in a box will keep the sun off the papers. You have some choices when considering what kind of box to use. Ideally, archive-quality cardboard boxes are the best. Cardboard also provides extra protection from major changes in humidity, which is another of paper's enemies. However, if you feel plastic is the way to go, choose an inert plastic one and be very sure to check in to be sure that moisture doesn't get trapped in them, which can create a mold situation. Whatever box you choose, be sure it's clean and structurally sound.
3. Get Smart!
There are a lot of options when it comes to preserving paper records and books. It's been a topic of study and has been refined over generations. So much available online to help you learn more and make some smart decisions. Here's just a few to get you started:
- ALA — Preserving Your Memories
- ALA — Preservation Resource Links
- Family Archives — How to Preserve Your Photos
- NEDCC — Preservation Leaflets
photograph of waterlogged comic books courtesy of Flickr user Allen Holt