Caring for Your Paper Documents

Newspaper clippings, birth certificates, marriage records, comic books and other documents may be items you wish to preserve for many years.  If documents are neglected in the basement or attic they can deteriorate and be lost forever, so follow these tips to ensure the long-term preservation of your valued papers.

  • Store papers in a cool, dry, dark environment
  • Heat and humidity can cause paper to become brittle or moldy, and light can cause fading or yellowing
  • Store papers in archival containers
  • Boxes, paper sleeves, folders, or mats should always be preservation quality.  When purchasing storage materials, look for specific terms that indicate stability such as low-lignin, lignin-free and buffered throughout.
  • Stable plastics made of uncoated polyester film such as Melinex ; polyethylene or polypropylene can also be used
  • Keep newspaper clippings away from other documents
  • Newspaper is highly acidic and can cause damage to other papers
  • If you must keep newspaper clippings with other items, place the clipping in a polyester sleeve or acid-free envelope
  • For safer long-term preservation of newspaper clippings, photocopy all clippings onto high-quality archival, acid-free paper
  • Store paper flat, not folded or rolled
  • Rolled papers can become very difficult to unroll later, and folded papers will often tear along the folds
  • Use archival boxes that are large enough to accommodate flat documents
  • Remove paperclips and rubber bands
  • Carefully remove old paperclips that can cause tears or rust stains, and rubber bands that will deteriorate and damage paper
  • Use archival folders instead to group and organize documents 

It is very important to use archival housings for all of your important documents.  The resources below offer more detailed information about which storage and presentation materials are safe to use, and contain good guidelines for care and handling of your paper materials. 

Resources

Caring For Your Treasures: Documents and Art on Paper
American Institute for Conservation

Preserve Your Family Treasures: Letters and Paper Heirlooms
Minnesota Historical Society

How Do I Preserve My Family Papers?
The National Archives and Records Administration

Caring for Private and Family Collections
Northeast Document Conservation Center

How Long Will My Scrapbook Last?
IPI Authored Column in The Science of Scrapbooking