Tuesday, October 19, 2010

My best preservation tips

I realized that it has been a long time since I blogged about some archives basics related to how we handle items. So, I thought that would be a good subject for today. I wanted to try something a little fun and provide some magical tips for problems - sort of a top ten "Household Tips and Tricks," but for archives instead of for households. Most of these should be familiar to my professional colleagues, but I expect they will be helpful to people in smaller institutions or handling personal papers in their homes.

10. Removing photos stuck to "magnetic" album pages
The sticky glue in those popular albums (that held all my own childhood photos from the 1970s) can be a real problem. It sometimes establishes a death grip to your treasured photos. My favorite tool in my archives preservation arsenal is a microspatula. If you gently run the spatula under your images they will likely come off the album pages so you can store them in a safer place like in an appropriate archives storage box. I have read of people using dental floss for the same purpose, but I have never tried it myself. If you are still having trouble removing items, CAREFULLY take a blow dryer set on low and blow the BACK of your image to melt the glue. Do not use the heat more than necessary. You could end up damaging your images if you are not careful.

9. Propping Photos on the cheap
Your items should stand straight up and down in your storage boxes and should not slump. Slumping can cause damage so archivist use spacers to help prop materials like book ends would do for books. If you want a cheaper way to prop materials and want to use something you probably already have on hand for re-boxing and safekeeping your items, gently bend an archival file folder and place it behind your materials to prop them.

8. Determining acidity of paper
A Ph testing pen is a great tool to keep on hand to make sure your store bought papers are not acidic and are safe for keeping your information. In general, due to established standards, regular computer paper should be safe for printing out information you want to save in this form. If you have concerns, use this pen to be sure. (The acidity of the printer ink is a whole other story...)

7. Smell test and Bunsen burner test to determine acidity of plastic
Most plastic enclosures that you buy in a box store will be unsafe. As with all archival supplies, you are best served by purchasing from a reputable dealer such as Gaylord, Light Impressions, Hollinger Metal Edge and University Products in the United States. If you want to test your plastic enclosures because you've invested a lot of money into them, try this to test for the presence of harmful PVC and to help determine the composition of material. Heat copper wire in a well-ventilated area and hold to your plastic. If it burns green, there is PVC present.
The Canadian Numismatics Associations provides a nice chart to help you determine exactly what kind of plastic you have in your hands.

6. Encapsulation to support brittle documents
Another magical storage helper is encapsulation materials. Put your fragile or oversized documents between two special layers of special plastic and seal edges with heat. You can even crumble it into a ball with no affect (but I don't recommend trying that with your treasured items.) This solution is only appropriate for fixed images. Charcoals and other similar media will be harmed by the static charge caused by the plastic.
For more information see http://www.gcah.org/site/c.ghKJI0PHIoE/b.3644151/

5. Eliminating dirt
This soft pad was a major bonus when I handled a large collection of maps that had been stored in a dusty basement for years. Wring out a little of the "eraser" material inside and gentle rub your item. Be careful that the writing is permanent or you will take that off too. Do not use this pad on pencil, for example.

4. Dehumidification
If you have problems with dampness and mold growth, consider using a desiccant. Gel packs can be kept in storage areas, but should not touch your archives directly.

3. Humidification chamber for uncurling items

Place materials to be uncurled in a small garbage pail. Place the small garbage pail in a larger one that contains water (so water will be in a ring around the smaller pail and not touching your documents.) Place a lid on the large pail and not the smaller one. Let the humidity do its work and check periodically. Once flat, take material out and lie on table with blotting papers and a heavy weight on top. A heavy weight can be glass plates, heavy books, boards, etc. and let items dry. Change blotting papers periodically if necessary.
For more info: http://www.greensborohistory.org/archives/preserve.htm#treat

2. Removing mold smell
I think this one is magical....Using the same garbage pail set up as #2, use kitty litter, charcoal or baking soda instead of water. These materials should absorb at least some of the odor. Please note that odors can not always be eliminated AND do not use this method for an extensive outbreak of mold. Mold can be dangerous and the environmental issues causing its occurrence must be resolved first. Any active mold on materials should be dried out and brushed off materials
For more info. http://www.nedcc.org/ask/frequently.php#q9

...and one final tip that I am happy to know, but hope I never need....

1. Removing blood from documents
Use cold water to gently dab blood stain with a Q-tip. Moisten it without saturating paper. Use a dry cute tip and gently roll it over stain to sop it up. (How could that tip not make the number one slot! I just had to put it there.) For more information see: http://archivesoutside.records.nsw.gov.au/conservation-tip-no-3-removing-blood-from-paper-documents/

For additional preservation information see my Preservation listing on my Links to helpful Archives and Cultural Heritage sites web page.

Have more helpful tips to share? Please comment on this post. What is your favorite preservation tip?

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