The Care and Handling of
© Universal Press Syndicate.
What this cartoon teaches us is that
digitization is not preservation. How many of you can now open those documents saved to
old floppy disks? Technology changes, meaning it can't guarantee that your favorite
digital image will be available for viewing on your computer in years to come. Take care
of your traditional images. They are your link to your past.
Your photographs are significant documents
in the history of your family and community. You will lose them forever unless you take
steps to preserve them.
1. Touch the emulsion side of prints and
negatives. Handle them by the edges only.
2. Cut photos into decorative shapes. While
may be aesthetically pleasing, the emulsion at the edges of the image is fragile; cuts
light, and pollution to destroy the image.
3. Write on photos with ink or use rubber
on the front or back of the images. If you must
write on the photograph itself, do so softly using
a pencil, not pen.
4. Use scotch or pressure-sensitive tape,
clips, rubber bands, rubber cement, commercial
glues (clear or white), or other foreign substances.
5. Put photographs in "magnetic,"
or other non-archival albums. The acids in these materials will permanently ruin your
6. Store photographs in cardboard boxes or
unfinished wood drawers.
7. Store photographs and other paper
materials face-to-face. Pulp paper acids will destroy your photographs.
8. Store photographs in in basements,
storage buildings, or top shelves of closets.
Excessive heat or other changes in temperature
will destroy your photographs.
9. Photocopy more often than once every 2
10. Throw away your negatives. If you are
looking for ways to save space around your home, it is better to throw away the print than
the negative. Another print can be made from the negative.
Handle photographs and negatives carefully, by the edges only.
2. Write identification of people and places, dates, etc.
on the back of the image with a pencil. (Don't press hard enough to leave an imprint on
the front of the print.) Even more ideally, place negatives in an archivally-appropriate
sleeve and write the information (in pencil) on the sleeve.
3. Store special photographs (the ones you would carry
with you out of a burning building) in Cadillac-level archival sleeves and archival boxes.
4. Store the bulk of your images in archival boxes that
create a micro-environment that protects photographs from humidity, light, pollution, and
5. Place the archival boxes and albums in a filing
cabinet or on a bookshelf at floor level or on the next higher shelf. An environment in
which you are comfortable is good for photographs too. The drier the prints are, the
6. Consider giving your historically significant
photographs to The Doy Leale McCall Rare Book and Manuscript Library, where they can be
properly cared for. Want to know more? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
People copy photographs for two main
1. To create a decorative element for a
room, often by having the photograph enlarged, perhaps handcolored, and put in an
appropriate frame. For decor, the sky's the limit. Enjoy cropping, enlarging, coloring or
combining images. Enjoy the results. However, to make your decorative images last as long
as possible, it is best to frame them under UV-protected glass.
2. As a basis for genealogical or historical
research. For research purposes, a two-step approach is best.
First, make a working copy of the
photograph, either digitally or through photocopying. Don't, however, do this more than
once every couple of years. To preserve maximum data, make the copy the same size as the
original, edge to edge, including any cardboard mounting. If there is any written or
printed matter on the reverse of the image (such as a photographer's name), photocopy the
back as well (same-size). If the photocopy is not completely legible, transcribe the words
on the copy in pencil. Make further photocopies of the image from the working copy, not
from the original. This will reduce the amount of wear and tear the original suffers.
Second, for the most significant photographs
in your collection, have a large-size copy negative made of the entire image, including
the mount, if any. Store the copy negative in an archival sleeve and use it to make high
quality copies for research, genealogical albums, or as your basis for decorative
enlargements. Photographs made this tried and true way have lasted for more than 125 years
and longer. Plus, the negative/positive approach gives you a backup for replacements of
lost and/or damaged prints.
Warning: a digitized copy of a
photograph is no substitute for the original. These copies will deterioriate. You cannot
depend on them to last, despite the claims made by manufacturers. In addition, just as
most of us can no longer retrieve music stored on 8-track tapes, the machine in which your
image is stored may be obsolete in a year or two and the image no longer retrievable. The
same goes for computer enhanced photographs. They are no longer historically accurate
images, hence no good for research purposes. Much useful data has been lost.
Using Archival Materials
Using archival materials for housing your photographs is
the best way for you to help ensure the longest possible life for your photographs.
Purchase storage and housing materials only from archival
supply companies, art suppliers, or other suppliers who can show you the magic initials
PAT on the label (meaning the material has passed the Photographic Activity Test).
Buyer beware! If you did not purchase archival materials
in the past, you can be sure that more than 99 percent of your photograph storage boxes or
albums are not archival and are causing damage to your images. The worst culprit are those
sticky-page "magnetic" albums.
Do a quick low-tech test. Open the album or storage
containers and take a deep whiff. If it smells musty or of chemicals, it is damaging your
pictures. Do something about it quickly. Plastic photo folders or paper album pages that
don't smell funny are second in priority. Within the next six months, you should shift the
photos in them to archival housing.
Archival materials vary in price from inexpensive
archival boxes to medium-priced albums, sleeves, and other housing. They may cost a bit
more than materials found at the dime store, but they are well worth the price if you want
to save your images. Non-archival materials will not help your photographs and will, most
likely, damage them irretrievably. Buy and use archival materials and feel good about
protecting your heritage.
Please also see How to
Protect Your Family Papers