By Kelly Francis-Love, the archivist
Store at low temperature and low relative humidity
- Experts recommend higher than 15% relative humidity and less than 65% relative humidity in an area that consistently stays below 75° F at all times.
- If you’re not sure about these conditions, at least keep the photos in places that that would be comfortable to you, without extremes in temperature or humidity.
Consider cold storage for negatives and slides
- Old film negatives may develop a vinegar odor with time, or warp and wrinkle. This is a sign that the plastic is deteriorating. Only storage at cold temperatures can slow this irreversible decay process. The most economical method to maintain a cold-storage environment is to use standard household, upright freezers kept at a temperature of 0-35 degrees Fahrenheit.
Reduce risk of damage from water, insects, rodents
- Insects and rodents love paper, so keep pictures out of areas which contain these pests.
- Keep photos from any areas that are prone to flooding or leaks, and also keep them up off the floor in case of a small flood.
When packing for storage, use containers that:
- Are big enough for the originals to lay flat or upright without folding or bending
- Are the right sizes, so items don’t shift
- Use a spacer board if there are not enough items to fill an upright box.
- Don’t overstuff the box.
- Are made of board or folder stock that is lignin-free and acid-free or buffered.
- Have passed the PAT (photographic activity test)
Consider using polyester sleeves
- If your originals are brittle, torn, or heavily used, place each sheet in a polyester sleeve. These sleeves reduce the risk of tears and other damage due to handling. Only place one item in a sleeve and make sure all parts of the image are visible. This way the item can stay in the sleeve while being viewed.
- Use sleeves that are larger than the original photo. Any part of the original extending outside of the sleeve is likely to be damaged.
Avoid self-stick albums or any form of glue
- Most glues contain substances such as sulfur and acids which will cause your photos to deteriorate.
Do not display originals
- Light in general, but especially UV and fluorescent lights, break down images with time. If you’ve got a favorite photo you’d like to display use a duplicate and keep the original in a safer darker environment
Mark in pencil
- Unless it is marked specifically for use on photos, most ink contains acids which will eat away at and stain your photos over time. Use a soft pencil or acid-free photo marking pen
Do not bind with rubber bands, paper clips, or staples
- Rubber bands contain sulfur which can cause your photo to deteriorate. Paper clips and staples can scratch the surface of your photos.