Preserving Your Treasures: Preservation Week – April 24-30

Do you have photographs or letters or books that you cherish and want to ensure they last for many more years? What about your electronic or digital items?

By: Renee Sharrock and Carol Waggoner-Angleton

Do you have photographs, letters, or books that you cherish and want to ensure they last for many more years? What about your electronic or digital items? Do you want to preserve the photos on your phone or tablet? Each year the American Library Association (ALA) promotes Preservation Week as a time to highlight what libraries and individuals can do to preserve the items that we treasure and value.

While the University Libraries does not have a professionally trained conservator or a preservation department, we do have staff who are knowledgeable in preservation techniques and practices. Carol Waggoner-Angleton and Renée Sharrock can answer your questions. Carol is the Special Collections Librarian at Reese Library and Renée is the Curator of the Historical Collections and Archives at Greenblatt Library.

The basic factors to consider in regards to preservation of analog items, such as print photographs and documents, are:

  • Temperature and relative humidity – avoid extremes in temperatures and relative humidity by storing items in a climate controlled area and not in the attic or basement.
  • Light – protect items from natural or artificial light and store in acid-free boxes, folders, or polyester* sleeves.
  • Handling – handle items with care and with clean hands.
  • Copies – make hard and/or digital copies and distribute the copies geographically among family members.
  • Interleaving – use plain white tissue paper to interleave between pages of scrapbooks.

*Avoid using plastic containers and sleeves that smell like a new shower curtain as these contain harmful gases (PVC) that will damage your items. Use storage folders or sleeves that contain polyethylene or polypropylene.

For electronic items, be sure to routinely copy the items to CDs, DVDs, or external hard drives. Make more than one copy of the files and store in different locations. Be sure to migrate digital items when upgrading to newer formats.

An important factor in preserving all mementos, whether analog or digital, is to label the items. Avoid using adhesive labels on analog items since they may damage the items and will eventually separate or fall off the items. Use a pencil to write on the back of print photographs and on file folders holding documents. Descriptive words should be used when naming and tagging your digital items and files.

For more in-depth information on preservation, see Saving Your Stuff on the ALA website. ALA also has free webinars on preservation to view. The below two books are excellent resources:

  • How to Archive Family Photos: A Step-by-Step Guide to Organize and Share Your Photos Digitally by Denise May Levenick (Family Tree Books, 2015)
  • Your Digital Afterlife: When Facebook, Flickr and Twitter Are Your Estate, What’s Your Legacy? Evan Carroll and John Romano (New Riders, 2010)

More online resources can be found on the Historical Collections and Archives information guide page Preserving Your Treasures.