Starting a project to organize and preserve your family photographs, documents and other content can be daunting. For Preservation Week this year, we’re passing along a few tips to point you in the right direction. Whether you need to learn how to house your photographs or other family keepsakes, or you want to protect your digital photographs and documents, we’ll offer some resources to get you going. Though this article focuses on personal preservation, many of these tips translate to caring for organizational content as well.
Tips for Preserving Photographs and Documents
When dealing with the personal treasures you have at home the first thing you may want to think about is how they’re housed now. Sometimes the easiest way to start protecting them is to organize them into acid free boxes. They can be appropriate for books, your family photos and documents, or any object you need to protect from dust and light. They’re available in a variety of sizes including box albums. You can further protect your photos and family documents in polyester or acid free sleeves before boxing.
- Temperature and Humidity. If possible, get the things you want to protect out of a musty basement or hot attic. House your treasures in an environment where you feel comfortable and avoid extremes of temperature and humidity.
- Handling and Protection. House similarly sized photos and documents together and get acid free dividers for between items if necessary. Handle with clean, dry hands. Make copies for display and store the original.
- Label. Use pencil when writing on the back of photographs and identify people, places and dates in detail.
Contact a conservator if you have questions regarding care or repair. For example, they can help you decide whether to keep a scrapbook together or give professional advice on cleaning or housing an object.
Tips for Preserving Digital Content
Are you thinking about or have you already started a project to digitize your family photographs, documents, or film? Digitizing older materials can help preserve them, but digital content is also fragile and needs care. For example, software/hardware used to read files can become obsolete, and the media used to store digital content (computers, flash drives, cd-roms) also has a limited lifespan. Here are some steps you can take to protect your digital content.
- Identify. Transfer files off of your camera, memory cards, CDs, or wherever they may be, to one location (such as your computer). Don’t forget to download files from email and social media that you wish to keep too.
- Select & Organize. Remove duplicates, and if you have multiple versions of a photo (e.g. 30 images of the same sunset), pick one or two that are high quality to keep. There is no one recommended system for organizing your files. Pick one that is right for you, be consistent, and write a brief description of how you have organized your files to keep in the same folder.
- When naming your files, avoid using spaces, punctuation, or symbols. Use hyphens and underscores instead of spaces.
- Consider adding and embedding names of people and places, dates, and other descriptive keywords in the files. This ensures that the information about the file will always travel with the file when you share it with others. Alternatively, keep a spreadsheet or document that contains the descriptive information about who is in the photograph, what is in the photo, where it was taken, and when.
- Store & Protect. Keep at least two copies of the files you wish to save, but three is even better if you have the resources.
- Store at least one of those copies in a different geographic location than your home. For example, you could store your digital content on your computer at home, and back up the content to a second external storage device that you keep at another family member’s house. Alternatively, you could store your second copy with a cloud storage service. See this consumer pricing and feature guide of cloud storage providers. (Note: the article is from 2012, so prices and features may have changed, but it’s a good list of consumer providers to start).
- Move your digital content to a new storage device every five years.
Check out the Library of Congress Personal Digital Archiving website for more information. It includes introductory videos and helpful guides for home digitization projects.
More About Preservation Week (April 23-29)
Memories and treasures should last a lifetime and be passed on to future generations. Sponsored by the ALA’s Association of Library Collections & Technical Services (ALCTS), Preservation Week inspires actions to preserve personal, family, and community collections in addition to library, museum, and archive collections. It also raises awareness of the role libraries and other cultural institutions play in providing ongoing preservation education and information.