secthead Resources

How to Preserve Objects and Documents

Collecting the materials is relatively easy, but what happens after they have been obtained? Patrons expect to have access to items for research or to view a family heirloom. In order to make items accessible, they first must be preserved. The same is true of your personal collections.

What are the general guidelines for preservation?

It is important to keep documents, textiles, and objects away from direct sunlight or artificial light to prevent fading and damage. Store items in a well-ventilated, climate controlled space, and away from exterior walls. Fluctuations in heat and humidity will cause damage, and may also encourage pest and mold activity. Support an item when you move it, either by carrying from the base (as with a teapot or chair) or by placing a rigid support under the item (as with paper or textiles). Always provide a buffer between items to prevent damage from friction and use, and to inhibit acid migration, the transfer of dyes and rust, and chemical reactions. A buffering material may be a folder, acid-free board, tissue paper, unbleached muslin, or archival boxes. Be sure that your hands are clean and your workspace is free of food and household chemicals. Check your collections periodically for pest and mold activity.

How do I preserve paper?

Unfold and store each document separately in an acid-free insert or folder. Place the document in Mylar if it is fragile, as this allows you to view and handle the item without actually touching it. Folders should be housed in an acid-free box. Display a color photocopy or scanned image instead of the original.

How do I preserve photographs?

Store in acid-free, archivally safe photograph sleeves and albums, or other appropriate enclosures. Do not write on the back of the photograph with a ballpoint pen—label the sleeve, envelope, or folder. There are also sleeves available for negatives and slides.

How do I preserve textiles?

Fabrics should be rolled onto an acid-free tube or stored flat. A hanger will stress the fabric and seams causing the textile to tear. Use acid-free tissue paper to ease folds and protect rolled fabrics. Tissue or another buffer should be placed between items in the same box and between items and a wood or painted surface. Store only in acid-free, archivally safe containers. Unbleached muslin may be used for bags for quilts and coverlets. Small stacks prevent damage from compression if boxes are not used.

What is the easiest way to access my collection?

Once you have surveyed and sorted your collection, make a list of categories. Create a finding aid (inventory) with a description of each item. The description could simply identify the person/place in the photograph with the date, or could include a family story or history of the item. Make the descriptions as detailed as you wish. Also identify the storage location of the items. For instance, a box of documents may be stored in the hall closet, while the rocking chair your great-grandfather made is in the master bedroom. A photograph of the textile or object should be placed with the finding aid for reference. Use pencil to label folders, etc. and never put Post-It notes on items.

The preservation of your collection will take time and commitment. However, it is a project that can be worked on one piece at a time. Enjoy yourself!

Our Blogs

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While working with the object collections of we come across many questions.  Visit here to see some of the more unusual stories that we have uncovered.

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The staff and volunteers of the Archives Department at never know what they'll find when working on the documents and records in the collections.  Fortunately, when they do discover something noteworthy they are very willing to share!

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Marianne's PhotoBlog


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You know that cliché about a picture being worth a thousand words? Ok, well, imagine the stories going on in my head after cataloging several hundred photos every single day!

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