14 August 2008

Take-Home Preservation Principles: Environment! Environment! Environment!

Heat, humidity, and frequent afternoon showers characterize our summer months here in the southeastern United States. Let's face it, it simply doesn't feel like summer until the high temperatures hit the mid 90s Fahrenheit (F) and the humidity hovers 95% - 100%! In contrast, most dwellings and public offices keep their thermostat set from 65-75 degrees F. Often, the most brutal part of summer is adapting your body to your surrounding conditions. Thankfully, sweating, shivering, and incalculable clothing options make these transitions more bearable. (But really, that's another story.) The real question is how does the heat and humidity affect our treasured paper-based possessions?

You may be surprised to learn that the most important thing you can do to protect your family papers, books, and photos is to place them in a controlled and stable environment. No, the attic is not an option; it is possible for summer temperatures in your attic to reach 150 degrees F. No, your basement or crawl space is not an option either; humidity and moisture collect here creating a breeding ground for mold and insects. When storing your family keepsakes, locate an area of your home that will not suffer extreme fluctuations in either temperature or humidity. A shelf within an interior hallway or an entry way closet is a very good option in most households.

The ideal temperature is 68 degrees F and allows for a three degree fluctuation in either direction. The ideal relative humidity (RH) is 40%, and, again, allows for a three percent fluctuation.

Recent trends in energy conservation as well as personal preferred comfort levels may leave you wary to run for the thermostat. Too costly and too cold may not be an option for you, and that's a-okay with us! Few people choose to maintain archival environmental standards within their own homes. However, just making the move from your attic to a room that has 75 degree F and 60% RH conditions can increase the life of your treasures by 4 times. Moving to an environment with ideal conditions, like here at the Beaufort District Collection, can increase the life of your paper artifacts up to 10 times!

So, get those treasures out of the attic, basement, or crawl space! When selecting the ideal location and environment, keep in mind:
  • Sunlight. Keep your family treasures out of direct sunlight. Ultraviolet radiation (UV) from sunlight can cause fading.
  • Dust. Dust your collection frequently. By keeping the area clean, you can prevent most common insect infestations.
  • Book Support. Store your books upright supported by book ends. If a book is too large or already damaged, store it flat. Never stack more than 3 books high!
  • Staples & Paper Clips. Remove all staples and paper clips from your paper items before storing them. By carefully removing these metal items you will prevent rust from damaging (or further damaging) the paper. Use a spatula--not a regular office staple remover. (Call us, we can tell you where to order one.)
  • Tape. Avoid using tape to make repairs. The sticky side of tape contains acid that can "eat" paper. There is no such thing as acid-free tape, regardless what the manufacturer or supply house tells you.
  • Pencils. Pens and markers also contain acid, so play it safe and stick to pencils.
For more information about protecting your personal archival collections, check out these articles from The Library of Congress:

Protecting Your Family Treasures Everyday

Preserving Works on Paper: Manuscripts, Drawings, Prints, Posters, Maps, Documents

The Deterioration and Preservation of Paper: Some Essential Facts

The Beaufort District Collection is a division of the Beaufort County Library, a department of Beaufort County Government of South Carolina.

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