It’s that time of year again…American Archives Month! And we’ve been busy with all kinds of archives-related activities throughout October.
During the course of putting together our newest exhibit, Forging Faith, Building Freedom, our staff met many dedicated church members who take on the task of collecting, preserving, and arranging their institution’s historical materials. On October 5, we held a workshop for these aspiring archivists on the basics of collections care. We enlisted the help of Margaret Jerrido, a veteran archivist who currently works for Mother Bethel A.M.E. Church in Philadelphia.
Participants represented various denominations across the state. The group discussed a number of issues including special care of manuscripts and photographs, collections storage, and public access. Ms. Jerrido remarked that the focus on church history preservation is new territory for the archival profession. We hope that this workshop initiates further discussion and action to care for our church histories.
Also this month, I was fortunate enough to attend a photo preservation workshop offered by the Conservation Center for Art and Historic Artifacts. Even us archivists need a good refresher now and again! Photographs are chemically more complex than other archival material so they need special attention. If I may leave you with a few reminders this month, let it be these:
- Wash your hands before handling photographs and don’t touch the image itself. The oils from your hands can damage photos by leaving fingerprints that are impossible to clean off. If you don’t feel comfortable handling old photographs, you can use clean white cotton gloves or surgical gloves to ensure your photos remain safe when handling.
- Keep images in a temperature-controlled environment and out of direct sunlight. That means no attic or garage storage for these guys! Temperature, humidity, and light are the three most important controls in determining how long your photos last. While some film as well as color photos do well in cold storage, not everyone has an extra fridge they can dedicate to this purpose. So taking this basic step is a great achievement.
- Store your photographs separately from other materials and do not let emulsions touch one another. Photographs contain metal which react with all of its surroundings. To ensure their long-term sustainability, photographs should be kept in individual folders or envelopes, and ideally, in mylar or polypropylene sleeves as well. It’s best to keep them away from other materials which may cause image loss.
- Do not pack your photographs too densely or too sparsely. Most materials do better when stored horizontally. If they’re packed too tightly, you risk damaging the photograph every time you attempt to retrieve it. Too sparsely and your images will fall over and bend. So follow the Goldilocks rule and pack them just right!
For those who are ready to go above and beyond these very basic tips, you can take the next step by using enclosures which have passed the Photo Activity Test or PAT. This international standard test ensures that your storage materials will not react negatively with your photographs. Hollinger Metal Edge, Gaylord Brothers, and University Products sell all of these great products. And as always, feel free to give us a shout with your archives-related questions!