Some people eat, sleep and chew gum, I do genealogy and write...

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Shoe Boxes of Old Letters, Photos and Papers -- Part Five

Direct Physical Damage to Paper

Water and air both seem to have bad effects on paper, but direct physical destruction is irreversible.

This week has been our week for documents destroyed by rodents, probably mice. Here are a couple of examples.

The solution to this type of damage is rather simple: keep the varmints out of the storage area. However, in reality, this is a lot easier said than done. In many courthouses around the United States, old files are kept in insecure containers or simply piled on shelves. When I was young, we lived in the country and we had a constant rodent problem in our house. This type of damage is inevitable in that type of situation.

Some damage to paper comes about simply from use.

This photo demonstrates a combination of use and chemical deterioration. The edges of the document have been exposed to light and moist air, but the real damage came from use.

Obviously, documents are meant to be used. From my perspective, this is one of the most persuasive benefits of digital documents: they don't wear out with use.

As a side note, when I try to take photos of the documents, the light is from different sources so I get strange shadows.

Paper is amazingly durable, but it tears easily and when folded, the folds break the fibers in the paper and make it subject to further damage. Here's a closeup shot of what happens when the paper begins to disintegrate from folding and chemical weathering.

There is also some evidence of mold damage around the folds in the paper. We also see an appreciable amount of damage to paper because of metal fasteners, rubber bands, self-adhesive tape, and glue. Here are some short rules for the proper care of paper when handling from the Library of Congress article, "Proper Care and Handling of Works on Paper."
Take proper care when handling flat works on paper by:
  • Having clean hands and a clean work area
  • Keeping food and drink away
  • Using pencil, not ink, to make any necessary marks or inscriptions; in addition, only make inscriptions when the paper is on a clean, hard surface, to avoid embossing the inscription into the paper, which will be visible from the other side
  • Not using paper clips, other fasteners, "dog ear" folding to mark or organize leaves
  • Not using rubber bands, self-adhesive tape, and/or glue on paper
Proper Storage of Works on Paper 
Good storage significantly prolongs the preservation of paper materials and includes:
  • A cool (room temperature or below), relatively dry (about 35% relative humidity), clean, and stable environment (avoid attics, basements, and other locations with high risk of leaks and environmental extremes)
  • Minimal exposure to all kinds of light; no exposure to direct or intense light
  • Distance from radiators and vents
  • Supportive protective enclosures*
  • Unfolded and flat or rolled storage for oversized papers
  • Individual/isolated storage of acidic papers to prevent acids from migrating into the other works on paper.
See the previous posts in this series here:

Part Four:
Part Three:
Part Two:
Part One:

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