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How to store, transfer, and/or help conserve old photos, phonograph records, documents, discs, books, paper, recordings, videos, and more

Creating family newsletters and time capsules.
Anne Hart, photography and books.
Storing family medical history documents, recipes, photos, tapes, and discs for the future.
Anne Hart, photography and book.

Family medical histories are called genograms. Whether you store them to last or keep old family recipes, here are the methods on how to store, restore, and conserve your old documents, photos, tapes, and computer disc records for future generations. How do you store old recipes and photos of your grandma's famous Sunday evening dinners, recipes, or one-pot meals as food-related photo scrapbooks or keepsake albums?


If you're storing old photos stuck onto pages of keepsake albums/scrapbooks, you need to take them out before the photos get glued to the plastic folders in the scrapbook or album. Instead, store old photos by interweaving the photos with waxed paper or polyester web covered blotters.


Know the difference between the technique of interleaving and interweaving. To interleave is to store between folders. You interleave papers between folders or sheets of alkaline-buffered paper. To interweave is to store between sheets of waxed paper or polyester web-covered blotters, rather than between sheets of another type of folder or paper. Interweaving is like layering a weaved pattern. Interleaving is simply putting papers between sheets of treated paper such as the alkaline-buffered paper.


Store photos away from overhead water pipes in a cool, dry area with stable humidity and temperatures, not in attics or basements. Keep photos out of direct sunlight and fluorescent lights when on display. Color slides have their own storage requirements.


Keep photos from touching rubber bands, cellophane tape, rubber cement, or paper clips. Poor quality photo paper and paper used in most envelopes and album sleeves also cause photos to deteriorate. Instead, store photos in chemically stable plastic made of polyester, polypropylene, triacetate, or polyethylene. Don’t use PCV or vinyl sleeves.


Plastic enclosures preserve photos best and keep out the fingerprints and scratches.

Albumen prints are interleaved between groups of photographs. Matte and glossy collodion prints should not be touched by bare hands. Store the same as albumen prints—interleaved between groups of photos. Silver gelatin printing and developing photo papers are packed in plastic bags inside plastic boxes. Carbon prints and Woodbury prints are packed horizontally. Photomechanical prints are interleaved every two inches and packed in boxes. Transport color photos horizontally--face up.


Chromogenic prints and negatives are packed in plastic bags inside boxes. If you’re dealing with cased photos, pack the ambrotypes and pannotypes horizontally in padded containers. Cover the glass of Daguerreotype photos and pack horizontally in padded containers.


Pollutants from the air trapped inside holders and folders destroy photos and paper. Use buffered enclosures for black and white prints and negatives. Use non-buffered paper enclosures to store color prints and color print negatives or cyanotypes and albumen prints.


Store your tintypes horizontally. If you have collodion glass plate negatives, use supports for the glass and binders, and pack horizontally in padded containers. The surface texture of photos stored in plastic can deteriorate. It’s called ferrotyping. So don’t store negatives in plastic. If you store your photos in paper enclosures, be aware that paper is porous. Instead of plastic or paper storage, put photos in glass plate negative sleeves in acid-free non-buffered enclosures.


Then store vertically between pieces of foam board. Where do you find glass plate negative sleeves that can be stored in acid-free non-buffered enclosures? Buy storage materials from companies catering to conservationists, such as Light Impressions ®. They’re the leading resource for archival supplies. Also look in local craft stores.

Talk to your state archives conservation specialist. Some documents require the work of a trained conservationist. Before you sterilize mold away with bleach, ask your state archives conservationist whether the bleach will ruin your diary or heirloom.


Did you know that the Document Recovery Information packet from Sacramento's California State Archives Division shows you how to protect, organize, and restore your old photos, documents, and video tapes? The Sacramento State Archives, Document Recovery, Archives & Museum Division of the government specializes in recovering and restoring old documents and photos that normally would go into the State Archives.

There also are other sources of information online on how to recover documents. See, Records and document recovery techniques.


You can learn some of the California State Archives Document Recovery Division's techniques on how to recover, organize, and restore your own old documents, photos, and even old video tapes that you need to transfer to new technologies such as DVDs or flash drives. To learn some of the strategies that the California State Archives professionals use for documentary recovery, you can write to the following address and ask for the California State Archives Document Recovery Information Packet.


And as an extension of documents organizing, you'd want to know how to transfer and store all those old computer files on the latest discs, flash drives, and other devices. As technology changes, how will future generations access your old documents, photos, or videos? How will your great, great grandchildren find the information you want them to view, and how will your organize, restore, protect, and store that information?


The Document Recovery Information Packet and similar information you can find online have everything you want to know as at least a first step in recovering and restoring your old documents and photos so you can organize your files better at home and put them in a safe place, protected from humidity, light, accidental fires, mold, or parasites. Write to the California State Archives, Document Recovery Information Packet (Compiled by California Secretary of State) Archives & Museum Division, Sacramento, CA 98514.


Also, the California State Archives Graduate Intern Program provides an opportunity for students to learn how to organize, restore, conserve, and work with archives. The program provides the opportunity for students with an interest in pursuing a career in the archival profession to have an educational experience that will allow them to work with and learn from professionals and scholars in the archival field.


Interns receive training in the archival programs in the order listed on page two. Because of the many variables involved within archival work, the daily demands on staff, and to meet the needs of each intern within the program, program training may vary in length. Students receive a stipend equivalent to the current graduate intern state rate.


Also see, Guide to the Port of Sacramento Records. If you saw how the government organizes, stores, and rescues old documents, can you use the same strategies at home for your own documents, photos, and old video tapes? How do you store your old computer discs for future generations when the technology no longer is available?


How to Transfer Phonograph Records to Digital MP3 Files


Do you transfer old phonograph records to MP3 files? You'd have to buy a phonograph turntable that also records the records as they play, then allows you to plug your computer's USB device into the back of the adapted phonograph turntable to capture the material on your old phonograph records. Or you'd plug your digital recorder into the phonograph and then transfer the recording to your computer.

You can find old phonograph turntables online or in antique shops, but there are those listed in various mail order catalogs that already have built into the back a slot for your USB device to record the material, for example, the recordings you made in those studio kiosks in 1950s amusement parks of your voice when you were a child, or your parent's voice.


Let's say that you simply want to restore and organize the old documents, photos, or video recordings in your home or in your keepsake album where they won't break down under the seepage of plastic folders as the years pass and humidity enters the picture. How do you rescue and store them properly?


Rescuing and Organizing Documents with Acid-Free Paper at Home


According to the publications of the California State Archives and their booklet titled, "Document Recovery Information Packet," compiled by California Secretary of State, Archives & Museum Division, Sacramento, CA, use acid-free paper around photos.

To store paper that has a high acid content, put the papers in folders and storage boxes with an alkaline reserve to prevent acid migration. Interleave your papers with sheets of alkaline-buffered paper. The buffered paper protects your item from acids that move from areas of high to areas of low concentration.


Buffers neutralize acids in paper. A buffer is an alkaline chemical such as calcium carbonate. So you have the choice to use the buffered or non-buffered paper depending on whether your photos are stored against other acid-free materials or printed on acid-free paper.


Vellum or Parchment Documents


Interleave between folders, and pack oversize materials flat. If you have prints and drawings made from chemically stable media, then interleave between folders and pack in cartons. Oversize prints and drawings should be packed in bread trays, or map drawers, placed on poly-covered plywood. Be careful the mildew from plywood doesn’t paste onto the back of your print. Look at the poly-covering on the wood.


Take off the frames of your drawings or prints if you can. Books with leather and vellum bindings need to be packed spine down in crates one layer deep. Books and pamphlets should be separated with freezer paper and always packed spine down in crates one layer deep.


Bread trays work well to store parchment and vellum manuscripts that are interleaved between folders. Anything oversize gets packed flat. Posters need to be packed in containers lined with garbage bags because they are coated papers.


Watercolors and hand-colored prints or inks should be interleaved between folders and packed in crates. Paintings need to be stored face up without touching the paint layer. Carry them horizontally.


Transferring & Storing Old Computer Tapes, Discs, Drives, Audio, and Video Store those ‘dinosaur’ computer tapes in plastic bags packed vertically with plenty of room.


Store software in plastic (non-magnetized) crates away from light, heat, insects, molds, mildew, and cold, damp cupboards. Never touch the magnetic media. If you have an open reel tape, pick up by the hub or reel. Floppy disks should be packed vertically in plastic bags and stored in plastic crates.


With DVDs and CDs, pack vertically in plastic crates and store in plastic drawers or cardboard cartons. Careful—don’t touch or scratch the recordable surface. Handle the CD or DVD by the edge. Place audio and video tapes vertically in plastic holders and store them in plastic crate.


Discs made of shellac or acetate and vinyl disks are held by their edges and packed vertically in ethafoam-padded crates. Make sure nothing heavy is placed on CDs, DVDs, tapes, or other disks. You can find ethafoam in most craft stores, or order from a company specializing in storage and presentation tools such as Light Impressions.® Place your photos and documents in a "keepsake album" time capsule along with software and text transcripts of all videos and audios on CDs and DVDs.


There will be a time in the future when your time capsule is opened and the technology to play the recordings will have changed. Keep all transcripts of recorded talking voices, prayers, song lyrics, diaries, recipes, and genealogy reports, medical genograms of family medical histories, and memorabilia low-tech and readable on vellum and/or other acid-free paper that will hold up over the centuries.


Keep a text transcript of any recording such as a relative's life story highlights.It’s nice to have material recorded on videos for highlights of life stories, but if the recording fades or is not playable on future technology, have all oral history transcribed and printed out on paper that won’t crumble with ink that will hold out for generations and centuries in your water and fire-proof time capsules.


Organizing & Rescuing Your Favorite Old Books, Diaries, and Recipe Collections


When repairing a book or diary, take a bottle of Book Saver Glue (or any other book-repairing or wood glue), and spread the glue along the binder. Run the glue along the seam and edges. Use wax paper to keep the glue from getting where it shouldn't. Put a heavy glass bottle on the inside page to hold it down while the glue dries.


Use either the finest grade sand paper or nail polish remover to unglue tape, tags, or stains from a glossy cover. Sit away from heat, light, and sparks. Carefully dampen a terry cloth with nail polish remover, lighter, or cleaning fluid and circle gently until the tag and stain are gone. On a plastic book cover, use the finest grade of sandpaper.

To bleach the "discarded book stamp" that libraries and schools often use, or any other rubber stamp mark, price, date, or seals on the pages or edges, use regular bleach, like Clorox. It turns the rubber stamp mark white. The household bleach also turns the edges and pages of the book white as new. Test on a small area and use bleach at your own risk.


To preserve a valuable, tattered dust jacket with tears along the edges, provide extra firmness by placing a protective plastic wrapper on top of the book jacket cover of a diary, especially if it’s handwritten.


American Institute for Conservation

1717 K Street, NW, Suite 200

Washington, DC 20006

email: info@aic-faic.org

Light Impressions (Archival Supplies)

PO Box 22708

Rochester, NY 14692-2708

WAAC Newsletter, Vol. 19, No 2 (May, 1997) articles and charts online by Betty Walsh, Conservator, BC Archives, Canada, and Walsh’s information on rescuing and storing old documents, photos and video tapes. The site contains material from the WAAC Newsletter, Volume 10, Number 2, May 1988, pp.2-5.


WAAC Newsletter

Curatorial Care of Works of Art on Paper, New York: Intermuseum Conservation Association, 1987.

Library Materials Preservation Manual: Practical Methods for Preserving Books, Pamphlets, and Other Printed Materials, Heidi Kyle. 1984

Archives & Manuscripts: Conservation – A Manual on Physical Care and Management, Mary Lynn Ritzenthaler, Society of American Archivists: Chicago, 1993.

California State Archives

Document Recovery Information Packet

Compiled by California Secretary of State,

Archives & Museum Division,

Sacramento, CA 98514