Preservation Week: 10 Tips For Your Collections (pt. 4)

Tip 8: Access and Preservation Go Together

A great amount of ink has been spilled when it comes to the “dilemma” of “preservation vs. access.” I, however, think access and preservation depend on each other for success. If items are not used, how do you know what condition they are in? Without access, digital files can become corrupt or disappear without notice. Friends, it’s two sides of the coin. Some tips to improve access and thus promote preservation:

Provide who/what/when/where for photos and documents.
You can write on the back of photos or documents lightly with a pencil, or take a digital image and add the information to the digital file. Be sure to put these in a safe location, or transfer the files regularly.


Inspect items regularly
Take things out occasionally and inspect them for mold and insect activity. Be sure they are clean and have no damage.

Organize and identify items
Label enclosures adequately so you know what is inside. This will also reduce rumaging through boxes to find what you need.

Give displayed items a rest
Rotate displays to give items a break from being out, and to show off other items. This gives you a chance to inspect items regularly, too.

Document your documents
Document items for insurance purposes should disaster strike (describe valuables and take pictures of them, perhaps part of a home inventory).

Tip 9: Be An Informed Consumer

There is a lot of misinformation out there when it comes to preservation information and conservation instructions. You need to be an informed consumer when you are searching the web or watching television. There are some excellent online resources out there that offer solid advice including these:

Library of Congress Preservation Directorate
Northeast Document Conservation Center
Conservation Online
National Archives and Records Administration
Lyrasis
American Institute for Conservation
ALA Preservation and Reformatting Section
National Archives of Australia
British Library’s Collection Care Department

Tip 10: Leave the Repairs to the Professionals

Sure, you can tape book pages together or attempt DIY book repair, but if your collection is valuable to you sentimentally or monetarily, it is best to consult a professional conservator. A good conservator will give you a range of options from an enclosure to full treatment and should be able to discuss with you, in plain English, what your choices are and how they will affect your material. Do not be afraid to ask questions. We conservators love to talk business. We also love to talk food…but that is a completely different blog post.

Thanks For Reading

We hope you have enjoyed our Preservation Week blogging. If you have learned something new or taken any advice, we would love to hear from you on what you did to protect your personal collections.

Preservation Week: 10 Tips For Your Collections (pt. 3)

Tip 6: Be Prepared For Disasters

We wrote about disaster preparedness for our May Day post. You should have a plan for yourself and your family in case of an emergency. And you should have one for your collectibles in case they are also affected. We won’t list all the resources from our May Day post, but here are some that address personal collections.

Library of Congress “Preserving Treasures After the Disaster”
Council of State Archivists “Rescuing Family Records: A Disaster Planning Guide”

Tip 7: Preserving Non-paper Collections

So far our posts have dealt mostly with paper-based materials. We of course collect a lot of other things, too. All collections benefit from a controlled environment and good handling practices. While we do not have room here to address all non-print media, here are some tips for the common items in home collections. A good place to start looking for information on non-print materials is the AIC Specialty Groups.

Textiles
Many of the dyes in textiles are sensitive to alkaline (basic) conditions. If you are choosing enclosures for your wedding or christening gowns, baby clothes and other textiles, choose enclosures and wrapping materials that are pH neutral. These can easily be obtained by perveyors of quality conservation supplies such as Gaylord Brothers, University Products, or Talas. Listing does not imply endorsement of any product or vendor.

Textiles are also very sensitive to environmental conditions. Food stains can attract hungry insects and high humidity can accelerate decay and attract mold. If you display textiles, but especially sure they are not exposed to light and pollutants (cooking vapors, dust, etc.). Cleaning should be undertaken very carefully and follow established conservation guidelines (read: consult a professional). See the AIC Textiles Specialty Group page for some good information.

Photographs and Home Movies
Photos and film are very sensitive to the environment around them. Dust, light, pollutants, and handling can cause irreparable damage. As with textiles, some photographic processes can be alkaline sensitive. While you will find debate on this, if you have a choice we recommend pH neutral enclosures. If all you can find are alkaline enclosures, they are better than no enclosures at all. Good quality film cans come in acceptable plastics which do not rust. We also recommend creating high quality facsimiles if you have important photographs you want to display, and you can digitize your home movies so you don’t have to play the originals. Obviously do not throw away the originals once you reformat them.

Digital objects
We are creating digital materials at a fast clip these days. Photographs, documents, electronic scrapbook pages. These are all very fun and convenient for sharing and displaying, they are also very vulnerable. Digital documents are vulnerable to format and hardware obsolescence (video tape and CD’s are soon to be obsolete), chemical instability, and unpredictable and often complete failure. For this reason we often recommend creating backups often and in the most current formats. For instance, if you have a lot of home movies on VHS videotape, it is time to transfer them to DVD or MPEG format.

Lots of Copies Keeps Stuff Safe. That is our mantra. Make digital copies, send them to family members, even print out documents now and then and put them in a safe place. Be sure to transfer your electronic documents each time you update platforms or software versions.

Resources

American Institute for Conservation “Caring For Your Treasures”

Preservation Week: 10 Tips For Your Collections (pt. 2)

Tip 3: Handle With Care

The way you handle your collections can greatly affect their condition and longevity. Here are some tips for proper handling:

Do not eat or drink around collections.

Food and drink, even water, can cause permanent staining and can attract insects, mice and other undesirable critters which in turn may feast on your family bible.

Wash your hands.
Clean your hands and dry them thoroughly prior to using your collections or you may leave stains and food debris behind. This is especially true for photographs and textiles which are very sensitive to the oils and dirt on our hands.

Make sure you have a place to put it.
Before removing a book from the shelf or your mother’s wedding dress from the linen closet, make sure you have a clean, spacious area to lay it down. You can’t clear clutter when your hands are full.

Handle carefully.
Don’t pull books from the shelf by their head caps, don’t drag your mother’s wedding dress along the floor, don’t put fingerprints all over your photographs and don’t use your Grandmother’s fine bone china as frisbees. Avoid paperclips and sticky notes, too. For Pete’s sake, use some common sense and handle your stuff with care and respect.

Tip 4: Display responsibly

We all want to show off our family photographs and children’s art work. There are ways to do it properly, and ways to do it wrong. Here are some good tips for displaying your collections:

Keep away from light.
Light exposure causes fading and embrittlement of paper, photographs and textiles. If you hang things on your walls, keep them away from windows and lights. Before hanging, watch the sunlight patterns on the walls as the day progresses and note where direct sunlight falls. Then hang your pictures in places that don’t receive light.

Environment matters.
See our previous post on controlling the environment. Don’t hang the only photograph of Grandma in the bathroom or keep it in the attic. She will come back to haunt you if you do (at least that is what my Mom says, and she is always right).

Choose a good framer.
Any materials that come in contact with your collections should be made of the best quality materials and should not cause damage. When taking your photos and family papers to be framed, be sure to ask what the pH of the mat board is, what kind of glazing is used (glass or Plexiglas are good choices), and how the item will be attached to the backing (non-adhesive methods are best).

Tip 5: Consider Using Facsimiles

If you have only one of something to use or display, it might be a good idea to have a high quality reproduction made so you can work with that instead of the original. This way you can put the original inside a good enclosure and in a safe location. This is a great idea for things like birth records, family trees from the front of your bible, photographs, children’s drawings and especially for newspaper articles since they are so quick to turn yellow and brittle.

Resources

NEDCC “Matting and Framing for Art and Artifacts on Paper”
Library of Congress “Guide to Preservation Matting and Framing”
National Archives “Should I Digitize My Photo Collection?”

Preservation Week: 10 Tips For Your Collections (pt. 1)

Tip 1: Provide a Good Environment

If you can do just one thing to protect your collections you would be wise to choose controlling the environment. What does that mean exactly? In Preservation terms, it means 60-70 degrees Farenheit and 40-50% relative humidity with minimum fluctuations in either. It also means keeping light and pollutants out of collection areas as much as possible. Providing this environment reduces the rate of organic deterioration, keeps bugs and mold at bay, and limits exposure to potentially harmful light and dust.

We live in the real world and understand that not many people (let alone institutions) can maintain such strict conditions. So what can we do at home?

Keep your materials in a stable environment.

Large fluctuations in temperature and humidity (more than 5 degrees or 5% rH) are worse than being in a slightly warmer or wetter environment that is stable.

Store your materials where you live.
Do not store important items in the attic or basement, and definitely not out in the shed or garage unless these environments are controlled.

Keep materials off of the floor.
Store items at least six inches off of the floor to avoid water damage from water and insects.

Monitor for environmental damage.
Watch for fading and warping, or evidence of pests and mold.You can purchase inexpensive monitors at your local electronics store that tell you the temperature and relative humidity. If you discover a problem, contact a professional conservator for advice immediately.



Tip 2: Provide Proper Enclosures

Enclosures provide protection from light, dust and handling. We think they may provide a microclimate that can may mitigate small fluctuations in temperature and relative humidity. We have also seen boxes that have gotten wet wherein the contents have been dry, the box having soaked up the moisture before getting to the contents (do not count on this as your disaster plan, however).

An enclosure can be a box, envelope, folder or picture frame, anything that provides protection from the elements. What makes a “proper” enclosure?

Fit is important.
An enclosure should be just slightly larger than the contents. If it is too small, it may cause damage (think of shoes that are one size too small, ouch). If the enclosure is too large, the contents can move around and bash into the sides. This is particularly bad for brittle and fragile items.

What the enclosure is made of matters, too.
Enclosures are usually made of paper or plastic, choose based on whether you need rigidity and light protection (paper) or need to see through the enclosure to reduce handling (plastic).
Enclosures made of paper such as folders and boxes should have a pH between 7.0 and 8.5 and be lignin free.* Acidic and lignin-containing enclosures can cause paper to become brittle and discolored.

Plastic enclosures such as slide or page protectors should be made of stable, preservation-quality plastics. These are polyester (trade names Mylar and Melinex), polypropylene and polyethylene. If you can’t determine what type of plastic it is, don’t buy it. Avoid vinyl because it offgases and causes discoloration and brittleness.

*Warning: When choosing enclosures from vendors you must be an informed consumer. The term “Acid Free” is a marketing ploy and does not tell you if the chemistry of the materials will harm or protect your artifacts. Think about it…would you put your priceless artifacts into a bath of drain cleaner? After all, most drain cleaners are “acid free” because they are very strong bases. So strong they can dissolve whatever they come in contact with. If you are unsure of the actual pH, ask the manufacturer or choose something you know is safe. When in doubt, choose a pH neutral (pH of 7.0) container.

Resources

NEDCC “Storage Enclosures for books and Artifacts on Paper”
NEDCC “Temperature, Relative Humidity, Light and Air Quality”

Preservation Week, Pass It On


Today starts the first ever Preservation Week brought to you by ALA’s Association of College and Research Libraries among others. This idea stems from a 2005 national survey of repositories by Heritage Preservation in partnership with the Institute of Museum and Library Services.

Among the findings: 26% of the responding institutions have no environmental control for their collections; 80% of responding institutions had no emergency plan that included collections; and 77% of institutions do not allocate funds in their budgets specifically for preservation.

These numbers are eye opening, but we at Preservation Underground also know that there is a lot to do within our personal collections to ensure the longevity of our own collections. During this first ever Preservation Week we will bring you tips to help you do just that. These tips will focus on books, paper and photographic documents. Later in the week we will touch on textiles and digital materials.

The theme “Pass It On” is applicable both to our personal collections and to our personal stories. Do you have a preservation story to tell? We would love for you to share it with us, pass it on.

Resources

NEDCC “Resources for Private and Family Collections”
Library of Congress “Caring for Your Collections”
National Archives “Storing Family Papers and Photographs?”
Library of Congress “Frequently Asked Preservation Questions”

Tin Foil Men Grow Bigger


OK, so we here at Preservation Underground are obsessed with the Tin Foil Men. They showed up in the exhibits area, and later in the Chronicle which we also blogged about, and have been blogged about over at The Devil’s Tale.

Today the artist has been placing really large Tin Foil Men around West Campus. What joy these are bringing to the weary campus denizens as we march towards finals week! We like the treasure-hunt aspect of today’s installation. If you get a chance to go outside, don’t forget to look up, there may be something in the trees! Here’s some pictures, if you have any images of your own, we would love to see them!

Celebrating 10 Years of Preservation: 10 years, 10 People

This year marks the Preservation Department’s tenth year serving the Duke University Libraries. We are planning several events to mark the occasion which will include exhibits, an open house, and interviews with staff members.

We will start our staff interviews with our longest-serving team member Winston Atkins, Preservation Officer for the libraries. Winston came to Duke from NC State a decade ago and was tasked with starting the Preservation Department. You can also find this and other videos at our Duke University Libraries You Tube channel.

We would love to hear from you if you have favorite Preservation, Conservation or DPC story to share, or would just like to give us a shout out and let us know how we are doing. Contact me and I’ll compile them for a blog post later.

May Day S.O.S.

Heritage Preservation has for the past several years promoted May Day as the day to think about disaster preparedness in cultural institutions.

To honor May Day we offer resources for you to kick start your disaster plan and recovery efforts. Online disaster planning and recovery advice is everywhere but you need to be an informed consumer when looking at many of these sites. Here are a few that we find useful. Listing does not imply endorsement of any product or company.

Disaster Planning and Response

Council of State Archivists Pocket Response Plan

A free template for creating a folded plan with phone numbers and contact information. It folds down into a business card-sized document.

Northeast Document Conservation Center D-Plan
A free, online template that can be accessed 24/7 from anywhere. You can also print out the plan in case your power is out.

Heritage Preservation: Disaster Wheel and Field Guide to Emergency Response
The wheel is great to have on hand for first responders, especially if they may not be materials experts. The Field Guide is one of the best fill-in-the-blank plans you can have…easy to use, customizable and affordable.

Western Association for Art Conservation “Salvage Operations for Water Damaged Collections”
A classic how-to for several types of materials you may find in museums, libraries and archives. Originally issued in 1988 on water-proof paper, the update in 1997 includes more modern materials. You can always print it out on your own water-proof paper.

Other Resources

Lyrasis Disaster Resources

Includes information for families and personal papers.

Library of Congress Preservation Directorate Emergency Preparedness
Useful information, some of which is hard to find including recovery information should you be hit by a volcano eruption. Don’t say it can’t happen.

Conservation On Line Disaster Preparedness and Response
Loads of information geared towards the professional conservator and preservation administrator.

ProText React Pak and Rescube
Should disaster strike, you need supplies on hand. You can purchase a kit such as the React Pak, or create your own using this as a guide. Put your supplies together now before something happens, and be sure anyone can get to them in an emergency.

Confessions of a Conservation Librarian

Yesterday I said to myself, “Self, you haven’t backed up your computer files lately. Perhaps you should.” To whit I replied, “Meh, maybe after I download this software so I can stream videos.”

Of course my computer crashed this morning. I tried rebooting, rebooting again, and again. Nothing. All those files and images…perhaps they can be saved but my luck doesn’t normally run that way.

*Sigh* How many times during the semester do I tell my preservation students about the fragility of electronic media and documents? How many times in my professional life do I tell people that they really need to back up their files regularly because you don’t know when a problem will strike and you risk losing everything? I told you so…and I told myself so.

So, loyal readers, go to your computer right now and back up your files. Go. Now. I’ll wait for you to come back….there, don’t you feel better?

Tin Foil Men Artwork Exposed (Almost)


We blogged before about the tin foil art that crops up on campus. Recently the artist surprised us with a few men climbing the exhibit cases. The whole library was abuzz and the story was picked up by the Devil’s Tale. In today’s Chronicle, Shining Li wrote a column about the student who creates this artwork.

“As it turns out, they’re made by a soft-spoken and thoughtfully philosophical student at Duke, who prefers anonymity. After picking up the skill at a young age, “bin Fuad” (a code name he specified upon our introduction) can now make each foil man in less than five minutes—and he makes, he said, sometimes a hundred at once to scatter across campus. At other times, he shapes just one based on a passing fancy and leaves it wherever it strikes him as a fitting location.”

Whoever “bin Fuad” is, we want to say thanks for brightening our world just a little bit.

Duke University Libraries Preservation