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Kansas Memory Blog

Preserving Memories

Posted by Megan Rohleder on Apr 5, 2021

By: Lauren Gray, Head of Reference

Did everyone spend 2020 spring cleaning? Our reference desk has received several questions lately about what to do with family heirlooms and documents, so if you’ve recently discovered an old trunk full of memorabilia, this post is for you.

Every family has a unique story and history, and we want to help you preserve your family heritage for future generations. We’ve compiled a list of storage tips for your family memories.

Please note: this blog post is meant to help you find the resources to preserve your material. If you need to conserve or rehabilitate an item, please contact a professional conservator in your area. Do not attempt to repair an item at home without first speaking to a professional.

 

 -  Make sure your items are stored above the floor. Dampness can creep into boxes from the floor, so it’s good practice to store items at least six inches from the ground. Mold can grow quickly in damp environments, so make sure to keep your items dry.

 

 - Periodically assess your material for any signs of mold or pest damage. One hungry mouse can turn grandma’s love letters into tomorrow’s Hantavirus-laced droppings. Bugs, like termites and silverfish, can also infest a collection. (And you really don’t want termites in your house.) If the material has been stored in a questionable location, make sure to inspect it thoroughly for pests and mold before moving it into long-term storage.

 

-    Keep your storage space at a consistent temperature and humidity. Fluctuations in temperature and humidity can be very damaging to materials in the long-term. 

 

-       Invest in high-quality, acid-free archival storage boxes (available online, links below). Yes, they are slightly more expensive than regular bankers’ boxes or plastic tubs, but they are designed to extend the life of your valuables. 

-       Store papers vertically, not horizontally. If you stack items, like papers or books, the weight of the items will press down on the material at the bottom of the pile and accelerate the lifespan of the material. 

 

-       DO NOT STORE ITEMS OUTSIDE. (Sorry, we didn’t mean to yell.) Nothing ruins materials faster than exposure to water, debris, wind (tornados, anyone?), and pest activity. While the shed, barn, or garage is a great space to store lawn mowers and last year’s unfinished remodeling project, it is not the space to store fragile items. Also, don’t store your items in an attic or basement for the same reasons. 

 

-       Store items out of direct sunlight. This is especially true if you’ve decided to put something on display.

-       Sometimes, a frame has special meaning to us, or it’s an antique that we’d like to preserve. A frame can also be a part of the image, like the backing on a daguerreotype. You can save space by removing the frames, but sometimes it’s not possible to remove the object from the frame without damaging it. Photographs, especially modern prints, can adhere to the glass or plastic and degrade the image. If you can’t peel the photograph from the glass, scan it through the glass, or take it to a professional conservator for removal. (This also applies to scrapbook items held in with adhesive - for the love of all that is holy, please stop using adhesive.) 

 

 -       Despite the Little House on the Prairie appeal of nestling quilts and diaries into a cedar chest for future generations, please don’t. If you have a favorite quilt that you’d like to display, you can absolutely lay it over the guest room bed (out of direct sunlight), and when you’re not viewing the quilt, cover it with a white cotton sheet to protect it. 

 

At the State Archives, we use a variety of methods to preserve materials, but you’ve already seen the best way in this blog post: Digitization. We produce high-resolution scans of our items and make them available online on KansasMemory.org (this website!). Through digitization, we are able to study the material without disturbing the original, which extends the life of the material, and makes them available to a wider audience.

 

Here are some tips to digitize your family material at home:

-       Invest in a scanner. If your cell phone takes decent photos, that’s fine, too. (We said that you should keep your items out of direct light, but the seconds it takes to scan an item won’t hurt your material.

-       If you have many items to digitize, make sure you have the digital storage space for them. Also, make sure to wipe your scanner with a microfiber cloth periodically. Dust can accumulate and muddy your scan. Also, don’t run your items through a document feeder. 

-       Create a storage system. Don’t save your scans willy-nilly to your desktop. We also recommend backing up your scans on an independent hard drive and in a cloud-based system. (Because: redundancy.) 

 

 

-       If some of your items are saved on obsolete storage systems, we encourage you to transfer them while the technology exists to do so. This includes floppy discs, records, and in some cases, compact discs. Programs, like Microsoft Word, are continually updated, so something saved in a Word document 15 years ago may no longer be accessible through the newest version.

-       Digitizing is a great tool for artifacts as well! On our website, you’ll find many images of furniture, clothes, toys, games, and a trove of archaeological treasures, all photographed and made available for research online. If your mother’s wedding dress never sees the light of day (good for you, out of the sunlight!), take a photograph and display the image somewhere special.

 

 

 -       This applies to antique photographs and documents, as well. If you’ve recently found a photo of Great Aunt Ethel and want to hang it over your fireplace, we suggest making a quality copy for display and storing the original picture. Sunlight, temperature variations, leaks, sticky fingers, and crayons happen, so keep your originals tucked safely away.

While this isn’t an all-inclusive list for preservation and digitization, we hope this will help you get started.

And if you decide that you don’t have the space for your family memories, don’t fret! We accept donations, so if you’re interested in speaking with our staff about donating your family memories to the Kansas Historical Society, you can email us at kshs.reference@ks.gov.

Here are some trusted archival supply retailers:

https://www.hollingermetaledge.com/

https://www.gaylord.com/

https://www.universityproducts.com/archival-storage

Here are more helpful links for preservation and conservation:

https://www.culturalheritage.org/about-conservation/find-a-conservator

https://www.nps.gov/museum/publications/conserveogram/cons_toc.html


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