When you think of archiving documents you think of libraries and museums with rows and rows of boxes containing and preserving important historical papers. But there are some really important historical papers that don’t always get the same treatment. We are talking about our own personal historical documents such as letters, photos and papers that tell and preserve our own histories.
And what is the best substance to preserve any of these irreplaceable papers? Well, that would be paper, of course.
That’s right, archival boxes and archival folders begin as the very material they are preserving – paper. According to Jennifer Herrmann, a heritage scientist at the National Archives and Records Administration, “paper can withstand quite a bit which is then one reason we can use paper to store paper.” She explains, “paper is made up of cellulose and we use high-quality cellulose partly because cellulose is a very stable material. That is why we have a lot of old papers because paper is actually a really stable material.”
But how do paper-based archival boxes work? A good way is to compare how they react with the papers inside them with how cotton clothing, also made up of cellulose, works to protect our bodies. In the winter, if you have layers of cotton on, you will stay warmer. In the summer, that same cotton will keep you cool. “Paper boxes and folders work the same way. They are buffering the paper kept inside from changes that go on around. So, the paper boxes and the paper folders are really the first preservation technique that we do for long term storage … in terms of simple storing material, paper has a really good buffering capacity for protecting records from changes in the environment,” says Herrmann.
We asked Herrmann for tips on how we can keep our treasured personal papers preserved:
- When storing your personal papers, any cardboard box is better than nothing. An archival box is better than a plain cardboard box. Ultimately you want acid-free, lignin-free and buffered boxes.
- Keep the boxes in a cool, dry place. Storing on the main floors of your home is best. If you don’t have that option due to space and have to choose between the attic and the basement, go with the basement. The temperature and environment of a basement is more consistent. Cold and damp (as long as nothing gets wet) is better than hot and dry. And don’t place the boxes on the floor in case of floods, store them on a pallet or a shelf.
- When storing documents in an archival box you want to fill it but don’t want to pack it too full. Part of the buffering capacity comes from the amount that is stored so you want it full, but cramming may cause damage to the more brittle papers and documents. For added protection of more delicate documents, pack them in individual folders within the archival box.
- Put documents and photos of similar sizes together and stack them up from largest to smallest. The documents should always be fully supported. Don’t stack larger paper or folders over smaller ones. This can result in larger documents curling over smaller documents resulting in them getting brittle or cracking.
- When you have both photos and documents to store, it is best to store like with like. But if you have a photo that came with a letter, then it is fine to store that photo with the letter since they are related (but make sure they are stored so that the paper does not fold over the photo).
For more tips on how to keep your precious documents safe, visit Protect Your Intelligence with Archiving.