Looking after personal papers
Many of us have precious and valuable documents and photographs
stored in drawers, cupboards, the loft, and even under the bed!
This general advice is intended to help protect these items for as
long as possible. The main enemies to documents are:
Light - if documents and photographs are left
in sunshine or brightly lit areas, over a period of time the
colours will fade. Newspapers are made from poor quality paper and
will quickly turn brown and become brittle.
Heat - can have a similar effect on documents
as light. Documents stored near to fires, central heating pipes and
radiators can become dry and brittle, and sometimes discolour.
Insects - such as silverfish and bookworm are
attracted to paper documents. The hollow spines of books are dark
places which some insects like to lay their eggs and hatch their
Damp - in areas of buildings such as the loft
and the garage, the temperature can change through the year, and in
winter become quite damp. Once documents become damp they can turn
mouldy and the stains can be very difficult to remove.
Avoiding these problems?
The key to
preserving your documents and photographs is to keep them in an
environment where there is a good circulation of air and the
temperature remains unchanged throughout the year.
Documents should be stored in archival containers away from
direct sources of light and heat. Avoid using the loft or garage as
these are vulnerable to extreme changes in temperature, and keep
away from areas that are likely to flood. If you use a container
check it regularly for any signs of insect infestation, and leave
the lid off for a short while to let some fresh air in.
- keep everything flat and remove
paper clips, staples and other metal fastenings that may turn
- store newspapers separately from other documents, they are made
of highly acidic paper and deteriorate quickly. Use acid-free boxes
or put cuttings into scrapbooks that use acid-free paper.
- if possible use archival paper for photocopying and print-outs
from a computer
- print photographs from the computer onto high quality paper. Use
traditional photograph albums and acid-free photographic
- use archival plastic sleeves for storing papers in folders and
- use cotton or vinyl gloves when handling photographs
- use wooden or metal boxes, shoe
boxes, chocolate boxes, or rolled in newspapers, in plastic bags,
or sealed air-tight enclosures.
- laminate documents or use sellotape, gummed tape or sticky labels
to repair any tears
- put original documents on display in picture frames, have copies
made and put these on display, with the original stored
- use self-adhesive photograph albums for your photographs as the
adhesive will cause your photographs to discolour
If you are in any doubt, please contact a professional
conservator, and do not attempt any repairs or remove anything that
may cause damage, without seeking advice first.
Information can also be
found on the following websites:
- includes practical advice on looking after collections
- features advice on the preservation of documents