Written by Laurinda Weisse, University Archivist
This week is the American Library Association sponsored Preservation Week. Preservation Week began in 2010 as a response to the huge number of items in collecting institutions, such as archives, museums, and libraries, which required immediate attention. The ALA estimated that, “some 630 million items in collecting institutions require immediate attention and care. Eighty percent of these institutions have no paid staff assigned responsibility for collections care; 22 percent have no collections care personnel at all. Some 2.6 billion items are not protected by an emergency plan.” As an archivist, part of my job includes choosing the most appropriate preservation methods for various types of materials. For some items, particularly newspaper and AV materials, digitization is the best way to conserve them. Their physical media suffer from inherent vice and are nearly impossible to preserve over long periods of time. Other, more stable, materials might only need storage in archival boxes, which help buffer them from changes in temperature in humidity.What you can do to preserve your own materials, physical and digital:
- Control the environment. Attics, garages, and basements do not make good storage areas because of their extreme fluctuations in temperature and humidity. Stable temperature and humidity will increase the longevity of materials. Check out the Dew Point Calculator. After you input temperature and either dew point or relative humidity, it will give you a preservation evaluation, which can help guide your choice of storage area.
- Light is the enemy. It contributes to deterioration of items. If you want to display something, consider making a high quality copy and use that rather than the original. When you do display originals, try to pick somewhere that is out of direct light. Sunlight and fluorescents are particularly damaging to materials.
- Make multiple copies of items and store them in geographically distant locations. For digital files, this might include your main computer, a local backup to an external hard-drive, and a cloud service for backup, based outside your own city. For personal papers, consider giving copies to trusted friends or family members.
- Label, label, label. As best as possible, identify very specifically the who, what, where, and when around materials. For example, rather than writing “Mom” on a picture, use your mother’s full name.
Want to learn more? The Library of Congress offers guidance on preservation basics for a variety of formats, available on their digital preservation website. ALA also hosts a series of free webinars on specific preservation topics. While I am not able to appraise or conduct conservation treatments on personally owned items, I’m happy to point you to resources to help you care for your historical items. If you have further questions about preservation, I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 308-865-8593.