Preservation FAQs

How should I store my books?

Do:  Store books in a dry location;
away from windows;
on flat, smooth shelves that are strong enough;
keep similar size books together;
use bookends to keep books from leaning in addition to falling over;
book spine should be perpendicular to shelf;
Do Not: store books in an attic or basement;
under direct sunlight;
under plumbing and water pipes;
put on shelves against outside walls.

How can I save wet books? What if my books are moldy?

The most important thing to do to save your wet books is to take action as soon as possible.
Stabilize and air dry as much of the collection as possible. Fan volumes open and stand them on the top or bottom edge on an absorbent material such as paper towel. Change it whenever it becomes wet. As the book dries turn it upside-down. Humidity levels should be maintained below 75% RH with dehumidifiers. Low temperatures will assist in the avoidance of mold problems.
Using electric fans will increase air circulation and dry out most items efficiently, but do not point them directly at the drying books.
What cannot be air-dried in 48 hours, can probably be frozen to stabilize and dry at a later time. Please check with a conservator.
Mold is the greatest risk and hazard, both to books and to humans. If you suspect or see mold, or think that the water may have been contaminated with sewage or harmful chemicals, you must wear protective clothing, gloves, and a mask while salvaging your books. Also, take strict precautions to protect your skin and lungs. If mold is present, seek professional advice and proceed with caution. If any negative health effects are observed, contact a doctor, mycologist, or both, before proceeding. Local colleges and universities can help you find a mycologist.

How can I get rid of the smell of mildew in my books?

The smell comes from biological growth on books that are stored in damp, dark, cool locations. Remove the materials to a drier (but still cool) environment, and make sure that plenty of air is circulating around them. These conditions should render the biological growth dormant. If the mildewed materials are stored for an extended period under such conditions, the smell will eventually disappear of its own accord. The same technique can be applied to dry books affected with active mold.
If you can see mold growth, DO NOT attempt to clean it off until the materials are thoroughly dry. Premature cleaning attempts will grind the mold into the covers or paper and cause stains that are often impossible to remove.
A short exposure to sunlight and circulating air outdoors also may help; however, it may result in damages such as some darkening or fading of book materials and paper may occur, so select this approach only with materials for which such damage is considered acceptable.

How can I mend a torn page?

The best way to mend a torn page is using Japanese paper. Book suppliers can sell you a variety of Japanese papers. The most common used is called Sekishu. To repair the page, apply a small amount of glue to where the torn ends are aligned. Tear off a piece of Japanese paper and lay it over the tear. (The Japanese paper looks more natural if torn as opposed to cutting). The Japanese paper is thin enough that you can still see through it to read the text but it is also very strong.

I have an infestation. How can I get rid of bugs in my books?

Isolate the affected books by placing them in a tightly sealed plastic bag. Seek assistance from an entomologist. A local university or state extension service should be able to put you in touch with one. Fumigation must be performed by professionals under controlled conditions.
Non-chemical preventive measures against insects include:
1). Seal entry points including windows, doors and put filters on vents.
2). Keep room temperatures and humidity levels low (insects need water, too).
3). Keep the environment clean and dusted, and don’t store books near food or rubbish, etc.

The leather on my books is worn and scuffed. Should I oil my leather books?

Leather dressings were at one time thought to be useful in extending the life of leather bindings. Experience has shown, however, that the benefit is primarily cosmetic and that inexpert use of leather dressing does more harm than good. Studies have shown that leather dressing can cause the leather to dry out over time. Leather may become stiffer, accompanied by darkening or surface staining. If too much dressing is applied too frequently, the surface of the leather may become sticky and attract dust and the oil stains and deteriorate the paper.
Consolidants like Klucel G (food-grade) can be applied by book conservators to bind dry rotted leather and keep it from offsetting onto other books or textblocks. For handling purposes, polyester film jackets can be made for books.

How can I preserve my newspaper clippings?

Newspaper is made from wood fibers and it will turn dark and brittle very quickly, particularly when exposed to light. Although it can be chemically treated to slow down further deterioration, many of the treatments will also darken the paper. Newspaper will damage other paper or photographic materials with which they are stored if the other items are not protected from them.
The only way to preserve the original is to store them properly:
1). Place clipping in a polyester film folder with a sheet of alkaline buffered paper behind it.
2). Put the polyester folders in file folders and boxes of high-quality acid-free, alkaline buffered materials.
3). Store in a cool and dry location, such as a closet in an air-conditioned room.

What do I need to know when I frame my newspaper clippings?

Just keep in mind that:
1). Have it framed with an acid-free backing board and mat.
2). Use only glass that has UV ray protection (this will help but you still need to keep it from direct sunlight exposure).
3). Hang it on a wall that does not get direct sunlight, such as a hallway or basement wall.

I have an old wedding certificate that has been stored rolled up for many years. It is quite brittle. How can I safely unroll and flatten it?

Often when paper objects have been stored for many years, they become quite brittle. In order to safely unroll your certificate, moisture needs to be restored to the document (known as humidification). Placing your document in a humid environment for several hours should make it more flexible, allowing you to carefully unroll and flatten it. Watch out for ink on the document that might bleed (don’t humidify it if the ink will run). You may have to experiment with the level of humidity and the amount of time you leave the document exposed; monitor to make sure it does not get saturated. Attempt to carefully unroll the document while it is still humid; do not proceed if it resists or begins to crack or tear. You could then flatten it by placing the document between two pieces of blotting paper, and then place a heavy object on top for a few days.

I have several old letters and certificates that I want to preserve. What can I do?

The key to preserving your paper documents is to keep them in a controlled environment. Your paper documents need protection from a variety of elements which contribute to their deterioration–namely: light, heat, humidity, acids in papers, plastics, and adhesives, other objects, pollutants, and pests.
You can store and preserve your paper documents in a few different ways. You can organize and file your documents in acid-free folders, and keep them in an acid-free box. Or you could place your documents in archivally safe plastic sleeves and keep them in an album or binder. Another popular alternative is to encapsulate a document between two sheets of polyester film.
Regardless of how you choose to store your documents, NEVER store them in an attic or basement. Store your items in a room that is comfortable to you, with stable temperature and humidity.

Can I store my documents in those plastic protector sheets that fit 3-ring binders?

Plastic enclosures are safe for documents ONLY if they are made of polyester, polypropylene, or polyethylene. Other plastics are not chemically stable and will release damaging acids over time. Especially dangerous is PVC (polyvinylchloride) commonly found in store-bought binders; it emits hydrochloric acid over time.

Is there any problem with putting more than one document in the same plastic sleeve?

No, but documents should be interleaved with acid-free paper to prevent acid migration from one document to another. Acid-free paper that is buffered will also counteract the formation of more acids in the future.

Is it okay to laminate a document?

Lamination is not considered a safe conservation technique because the process may potentially damage a document due to high heat and pressure during application. Moreover, the laminating materials themselves may be chemically unstable and contribute even more to the deterioration of the document. Lamination also violates a cardinal rule of conservation, and that is to only apply treatments that do not alter the item and which can be reversed.

What about the ink used in copiers and printers? Is there an archival ink that can be used as an alternative?

The inks used in photocopiers and printers are moderately durable. To date there is no alternative ink available for use in a copier or printer. It is a good rule of thumb to photocopy any document you wish to preserve onto acid-free paper. If you then keep the original and copy away from light, heat, humidity, etc. the document should last for several generations. Incidentally, there are archival inks for use on paper: Pigma ink comes in a pen, and Actinic ink comes bottled for use with a quill pen or in an ink pad.

How can I preserve my family photographs for my grandchildren?

Store photographs at 68 degrees F. and 30-40% relative humidity (HR) in a closet or air-conditioned room. Don’t store them in the attic or basement. Higher humidity levels speed up deterioration; very low humidity may cause prints to crack, peel or curl. Storage at lower temperatures is particularly advised for contemporary color prints.
Avoid exposing photographic materials to anything containing sulfur dioxide, fresh paint fumes, plywood, cardboard, and fumes from cleaning supplies. Store photographs in proper enclosures made of plastic or paper materials which are free of sulfur, acids, and peroxides. If relative humidity cannot be controlled consistently below 80%, plastic enclosures should not be used because photographs may stick to the slick surface of plastic.
Avoid acidic paper envelopes and sleeves, polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastic, rubber bands, paper clips, and poor-quality adhesives such as pressure-sensitive tapes and rubber cement. Buffered enclosures are preferred for deteriorated photographic prints on poor-quality mounts.
Buy albums made of high-quality materials. Generally, use photo corners and only those materials that are known to have passed the PAT (Photographic Activity Test). Particularly, avoid albums with sticky adhesive pages.

I’ve heard that color photos fade. What can be done to stop the fading?

Yes, color photographs do fade. Unfortunately, the color dyes used in the image irreversibly decay with time. Light increases fading. Fading increases with the brightness of the light and the length of time in the light. When displayed, photos should be kept away from direct sunlight or bright lamps that are left on constantly.
Heat also increases fading, even at moderate temperatures, such as 70-75F, found in homes. At these temperatures, fading always occurs, even in the dark. Color photos will last longer if stored in the dark, in a cool dry location. However, only storage at cold temperatures can slow this irreversible decay process to a near stop. Cold storage is not practical for most people and can even cause more immediate damage if used improperly. Frost-free freezers can be used as long as special enclosures and handling procedures are followed.
Faded color photographs can be copied and printed onto the more stable color photograph papers. They also can be scanned into a computer and digitally enhanced to restore the faded dyes to near original appearance, then printed onto the more stable photographic papers. Avoid copy prints made on computer printer paper, as these fade even faster than old color photos and are unusually sensitive to water.

What is the best way to store negatives? Should color negatives be stored the same as black and white?

There are a variety of storage options available. The best choice depends on the number of negatives and one’s preference. Negatives can be stored in acid-free envelopes–paper or plastic–and placed in an acid-free box made for negatives and prints. There are also clear plastic sheets which hold various size negatives which can then be put in a binder.
The American National Standards Institute (ANSI) recommends non-buffered storage for color prints and negatives, and buffered storage materials for black and white prints and negatives. Nitrate film should be stored in buffered materials.

My grandmother’s photo collection was glued on that old black paper that photo albums were made of. How can I get the photos out of the album?

The safest and recommended approach is to carefully try to lift the photos off of the album page with a tool called a microspatula or a small spatula. Slip the microspatula under the edge of the photo, and carefully move it back and forth. The ease with which the photos come up may vary depending on the humidity level. Dry conditions may make prints and backing brittle, easier to lift. Or humid conditions may soften the adhesive and ease removal. Experiment with it, but DO NOT force the photos so that they tear.
If you cannot lift them, cut away the black paper around the photo. If photos are on both sides of the page and you cannot cut around, interleave the pages of the album with acid-free paper and store the album in an acid-free box.

How should I display documents or works of art on paper?

Protect such items by hinging them into museum-quality mat board that have both a back board and a window board. Poor quality mats can damage the pictures they are supposed to protect. The most common damage is dark yellow staining, particularly around the edges of the window mat that frames the picture.
The method used to mount the document or picture in the mat is critical. It should be attached to the backboard of the mat with long-fibered paper hinges (Japanese paper, usually) and cooked starch paste. Although a straightforward procedure, accomplishing it successfully can be tricky, so it’s best to leave the task to a trained conservator or professional picture framer. A less complicated, but still archivally sound, alternative is secure the item in the mat with photocorners. High-quality polyester or paper photocorners can be purchased from conservation suppliers.
NEVER hinge pictures with pressure-sensitive tape (including masking tape, “invisible” tape, quick-release tape, cellophane tape, double-stick tape, and the so-called “archival” tapes). NEVER use rubber cement, stick glue, spray adhesives, or dry-mount adhesives. Do not use brown paper tape (moisture-activated gummed adhesive) or animal glues. All tapes and adhesives of these types will stain the paper and and may cause inks and colors to “bleed.” Many lose their adhesive properties and fall off with age, leaving behind a residue that is unsightly, damaging to the item, and difficult (or impossible) to remove. If removal of such adhesives and the stains they cause is possible, the work should only be entrusted to a trained conservator. Improper treatment can damage items irrevocably, greatly reducing their beauty and value.
Use a good frame that is well-constructed and has mitred joints. The frame should be sturdy enough to support the weight of the object. Glass or acrylic should be used as glazing. Glazing should never touch the work of art. The preservation purpose of a window mat or spacer is to prevent such contact.
All light, particularly sunlight and fluorescent lights damage paper-based materials. Light damage can be reduced by using ultraviolet-filtering glazing. Acrylic glazing should not be used in the framing of pastels, charcoal drawings, or pictures with flaking pigments because they tend to develop a static charge that can lift powdery media right off the paper.

How can I prevent damage to original artwork on paper from aging and contamination?

There are two main enemies of original art on paper during long-term storage or display: chemicals that are contained in the paper, and chemicals from outside objects that come in contact with the paper.
The enemy from within is the remaining acidity or alkalinity from the manufacture of the paper, or the build-up of acidity due to the aging of materials in the paper. Nasty chemicals are often used in the making of
paper products from wood and a few other fibers. Some of these chemicals, as well as parts of the plant material, can remain in the paper, causing it to chemically change with age and turn yellow or brown, due to a buildup of acidity.
Ideally, you want paper as close to a pH neutral condition as possible. That means that it’s not acidic or alkaline. A paper that is pH neutral or has some alkalinity will tend not to discolor with age. Some papers are buffered, meaning that they have alkaline chemicals added during production that tend to offset any acidity that might build up with age. Double-check for balanced pH with a testing device, such as a pH testing pen.
External contamination can come from self-adhesive tape, glue, acidic paper, humidity, skin oils, temperature, aerosols and ultraviolet or strong light. Use only stable, acid-free or pH neutral materials that might come in contact with or be stored near paper.
The sticky coatings on adhesive tape contain volatile chemicals that can
work their way into the paper and stain it. Plus, the adhesive will eventually dry with age and come loose, crack or crumble. Never allow masking tape, cellophane tape, duct tape, drafting tape or any self-stick tapes on or near the front or back of the art. Also avoid spray adhesives.


If your preservation question is not addressed, above, please feel free to send us your question via our webform

Book Preservation at the Univ. of Virginia Library
Document and Photo Preservation FAQ by Linda L. Beyea
Preservation Directorate: Library of Congress
Why Good Arts Goes Bad- Artwork Preservation by Terry Whittier

Note: The preservation procedures described here have been used in the care of collections and are considered suitable from the authors/library; however, the authors/library will not be responsible for damage to your collection should damage result from the use of these procedures.