The Practical Archivist, Sally Jacobs, has thoughtfully provided the following tips for protecting and caring for old paper. This is the first of a two-part series on caring for ephemera. For this post, Sally has provided basic information for the proper handling and care of paper collectibles.
BASIC NEEDS OF PAPER. Paper requires a few basic things such as stable temperature and humidity. Plus, folders, sleeves, and boxes that won't leach acids or other corrosive chemicals.
WHAT WILL DAMAGE PAPER? UV rays cause fading. They can also create heat, which speeds up chemical processes that naturally occur in the paper itself. Other damaging elements include light, dust, fingerprints, and unsafe handling. Here's a detailed list of the enemies of paper:
- Heat. High temps speed up the rate of chemical reactions. Deterioration is caused by chemical reactions. The rate of deterioration doubles with each increase in temp of 18 degrees.
- Relative Humidity. This is a complicated ratio that involves water vapor, temperature, and pressure. For our purposes, just keep in mind that temperature and relative humidity need to be considered together.
- Dust and Dirt. Dust and dirt discolor paper records and scratch (or permanently disfigure) them over time. Use care when dusting papers. A soft brush is best.
- Pollutants. Airborne pollutants such as ozone and sulfur dioxide create chemical reactions degrade dyes. The more polluted the city you live in, the more serious this problem will be for your collection.
- Pests. Insects and rodents eat cellulose (a common ingredient in paper). They also eat starch, glue, and gelatin. Furry pests like rats, mice, and squirrels will nibble at your photographs, and even if they don’t take a bite, their droppings will leave permanent stains.
- Unsafe Handling. Bending, breaking, spilling, sneezing, dropping. Do not eat or drink near your collection. Get a friend to help you move oversize items. Wear gloves--fingerprints can leave behind acidic oils that will eat away very slowly at the paper. If you really can't stand wearing gloves, be sure to wash your hands and skip the lotion. Handle by the edges, if possible.
Coming soon... Sally will provide information on the best methods for archiving and storing ephemera.