Some items are best stored flat, such as scrapbooks, photographs, and other papers. The problem is that these items, even when best stored flat, may wear out and degrade over time. Paper, cardstock paper, 3-ring binder pages, photo envelopes, and certainly old photographs will break down over time, and irreplaceable old letters, photos, maps, and more can be lost. That is, unless the finest preservation techniques are used for these things best stored flat, and the best storage and preservation tech allows people to preserve old photos and papers for a long time to come. Portfolio boxes, a photo album binder, metal picture frame kits, and more can help a document or photo last longer, and correct indoor environment control can help, too. Items best stored flat can be kept in fair condition for much longer, and many patrons of such services will demand that no faults in their product appear during storage. How can such items best stored flat be preserved for years to come?
Paper and Protection
Countless old documents, photos, paintings, and more have either been completely lost or badly damaged due to time and exposure to humidity or sunlight. At the same time, other such documents and items have indeed survived, from poems and letters by Walt Whitman and Abraham Lincoln to photographs from the 19th century. If such items as photographs or hand-written letters are preserved just right, their lifespan extends, and degradation slows way down or is stopped entirely. What factors are are play?
A paper’s acidity may indicate how long it may last. For example, acid-free paper will have a pH of 7.0, or neutral, or the acidity may be slightly higher, making it alkaline. Overall, acid-free papers can be expected to last over 200 years or so under normal storage conditions. If acid-free paper is best stored flat in a preservation gallery, it may last even longer. Some famous documents such as the Declaration of Independence are still in good enough condition to read with the naked eye, showing how advanced preservation techniques have become.
There are some well-known hazards to a paper or photograph’s life expectancy, so contemporary countermeasures are designed to deal with them. Humidity is often an issue, since humidity too high or too low can damage photos or paper. For example, humidity under 15% can badly damage old photographs and cause them to become brittle, and the same may be true for some papers. Conversely, very high relative humidity, or rH, is also an issue. If it gets above 65%, mold growth many happen, and insects are more likely to eat away at old photographs and papers. Thus, humidity between 15-65% is often best for preserving old papers and photographs.
Temperature is another factor to consider. A lower temperature is typically best, often under 75 degrees Fahrenheit. If the temperature is kept low enough, the rate of chemical decay will be slowed down, and insect activity will also be hampered. Conversely, a humid, hot environment is bound to rapidly destroy documents, and over the centuries, no doubt many documents have been lost in this manner around the world. But today’s storage professionals know what is good for old papers and photos and what’s bad for them, extending their life much further.
A storage crew might also take photographs or digital scans of old documents, maps, photos, or more when they receive them, to create a permanent impression of what the item looked like. This can be helpful for digital archives, for example, for academic or professional use. Not to mention how this acts as a backup in case the document or photo is lost, destroyed, or simply degrades further. Some of the sentimental value of the item is lost along with the physical copy, but a digital copy can still have its use and protect the information that the original item had. Today, many professionals or university or high schools students can view and read old documents, photos, maps, and more thanks to digital scanning. In the old days, documents were slowly reproduced by hand, such as medieval monks who spent many hours copying the Bible to reproduce it. Today, digital scanning pushes this to the next level.