Expert Advice: Preserving Personal Collections
Archivist and educator Erin Mahaney, Florida Tech’s first university archivist, joined the university in August to oversee, organize and share the growing archives collection at Evans Library. For individuals interested in preserving personal archives, Mahaney offers the following tips.
The best and most comprehensive thing you can do for your tangible personal collections, whatever they are (papers, textiles, photographs, stamps, natural history collections), is to maintain a safe and stable environment. Physical objects will naturally deteriorate over time, but the process is accelerated when items are stored in poor or unstable conditions.
- Keep items in a cool, dry place (40%–50% relative humidity and 60–70˚F) and avoid fluctuations.
- Do not store your collections in a place that is subject to leaks, extreme heat or damp, pests, dirt or air pollutants. The center of your house is usually better than an attic, basement or garage. Prolonged exposure to light, natural or artificial, can also irreversibly damage materials.
- Handle older objects with care. Do not trust old supports like handles or straps. Lift from a base or stable part of the object when possible.
The things we collect or hold onto are often their own worst enemy. Have you ever found a newspaper clipping in an old book and seen the stain it leaves on the page? Materials go through a chemical process as they age, often releasing gasses that can be harmful to the item itself and other things in your collection. Photos may stick together, leather can start to crumble and stain your hands (red rot), and old negatives start to smell (vinegar syndrome).
- Be careful what materials you store together and store different types if items separately when possible.