The Preservation Techniques of Old Papers and Photos

The Internet is a powerful but very recent form of communication. Ever since antiquity, societies around the world have used physical means for recording information, ranging from papyrus in ancient Egypt to Cuneiform carvings in Mesopotamia to paper and animal skin scrolls and parchment. Even as recently as the early 1900s, all forms of communication were physical, mainly paper and photographs. The problem here is that many such old documents or photos contain sentimental or educational material that no one wants to lose, but the paper or photos are bound to degrade over time. What can be done to prevent the loss of educational or culturally (or personally) significant text and images? This is where professional preservation and archiving comes in, and old documents, maps, photographs, parchment, and more can be kept in good shape. Binder sleeves, custom mat cutting, linen tape, aluminum picture frames, and many more are some of the tools that archival staff members may use. Picture frames can help keep old photos from curling, and can protect them from heat or moisture. Picture frames can also look nice, and can match the theme of the photo itself.

Dangers to Old Documents

Picture frames and preservation boxes or liquids can be used to keep old photos or paper documents from degrading entirely. No one wants old documents or photos to fall apart or fade, but environmental factors may cause this all the same. Of course, major trauma such as floods and fires can destroy old documents and photos, but milder, more everyday hazards exist for them, too. Humidity in a room is one such factor to bear in mind when preserving these old documents and photos. If the humidity is over 65%, then mold growth and insect activity can quickly destroy paper and cause photos to fade, never to be restored. But if the humidity is too low, such as under 15%, then this dryness can cause photos to crack, as well as paper. Brittle paper or photos in a very dry room may soon fall apart, especially if touched. Humidity should, therefore, be kept somewhere between those two extremes. The condition and nature of the old documents and photos may determine a more narrow range of acceptable humidity, and professionals at the archive will know how to handle this.

Another problem is temperature. If the temperature in a storage site is too high, such as above 75 degrees Celsius, then chemical decay may happen faster and insects may appear. Therefore, a lower temperature is preferred, and here again, a professional will know the exact optimal temperature and humidity for old papers and photographs.

Picture frames can be used to keep old photos safe, especially with glass panes that do not allow moisture or excessive dryness in the photo being stored. In this manner, many very old photos are still in fine condition today despite their age. If left out in the open, especially in humid or hot environments, no doubt that those old photos would be hopelessly degraded by now.

Digital scanning is another way to protect documents. A digital scan can be done on an old document, map, or photograph to create an intangible and permanent copy if it, and this can be very useful. It can be uploaded into digital archives for professional, academic, or even recreational use, and many colleges may have access to online data banks of old, scanned documents and photos. A college’s literature class, for example, may have access to online archives of magazines or newspapers from as far back as the 1800s, which were stored in fair condition by archivists and then scanned for anyone to view. This can also help protect the data in a paper or photograph if the real copy is mishandled and becomes degraded, or if the physical copy is lost due to fire, floods, theft, or anything else. While a digital copy of such an item does not have the historical or sentimental value of the original, digital scanning allows anyone to view the document’s data anywhere in the world, and this can be very useful for some experts. Historians, for example, can browse thousands of 19th century newspapers online at will for their research.


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