Preservation Tips from the Archives: Papers

Preserving old family papers, books, newspapers, photographs or other items can seem like a daunting task. However, there are things we can all do at home to protect our valuable records. This is the second in a series of blogs providing tips on how you can help prolong the life of your valuable items for future generations. This week we are focusing our attention on preserving papers. View our blog about preserving books here.

Avoid fluctuation in temperature and humidity

Changes in temperature and humidity cause paper to swell and contract and can induce harmful condensation. Also, high temperature and relative humidity levels accelerate destructive chemical reactions in paper and encourage mold growth. The ideal temperature for paper is 65 degrees Fahrenheit, with a relative humidity of 40 percent. While it is very difficult to maintain these conditions in Florida, storing your important papers in cool, dry, stable conditions will help ensure their longevity.

Keep food and drink away from papers

Not only can food and drink attract pests, but they can also cause irreparable damage to papers.

Avoid direct light sources

While any type of light can harm paper, fluorescent light, and sunlight both emit harmful ultraviolet rays that will severely fade paper and ink. Store papers in boxes and out of bright lighting and sunlight. If your papers are on display, it is best to encase them behind UV-protective glass (do not let the item rest directly against the glass) and away from direct light sources.

Store papers properly

Store your papers in acid-free folders and boxes or in scrapbooks made from acid-free paper stock. Never store important papers in an attic or basement because these areas are most susceptible to changes in temperature and humidity.

Acid-free boxes help protect paper from light damage.

Acid-free boxes help protect paper from light damage.

Flatten items carefully

Do not force open rolled, folded or creased papers. Brittle paper will break along fold lines. Papers can often be “relaxed” into opening by placing them on a towel or non-metal screen near a steam source for a limited amount of time, then drying the paper between layers of blotter paper weighted evenly all around. Never place papers in the direct path of the steam or allow condensation to accumulate on the paper.

Rolled documents should be handled with care so the paper doesn't crack.

Rolled documents should be handled with care so the paper doesn’t crack.

Avoid fasteners and tape

Paperclips, staples, rubber bands and other fasteners can damage paper. Plastic clips can substitute for metal fasteners but can still damage paper by causing creases where they are applied, so they should be used carefully.

Pressure sensitive tape, glue and other adhesives will damage papers. If taping is unavoidable, use an archival quality mending tape available from archival supply vendors.

Plastic paper clips come in a variety of sizes are better for securing documents.

Plastic paper clips come in a variety of sizes and are better than metal fasteners for safely securing documents.

Photocopy newspaper clippings

Newsprint is highly acidic and will quickly become brown and brittle. It transfers acid to adjacent papers and causes them to degrade more quickly, so it is important to keep newspapers from contacting other important documents. The best way to preserve newspaper clippings is to photocopy them onto acid-free paper. If you wish to keep your newspapers or clippings, you can interleave each page with acid-free paper or place newspapers in acid-free sleeves to avoid contacting other important papers. Archival supply vendors also sell full-size acid free newspaper boxes for storing whole newspapers.

Photocopying newspaper clippings will help preserve them.

Photocopying newspaper clippings will help preserve the information they contain.

Following these basic tips will help you ensure the longevity your important papers. If you have specific questions about preserving your papers, contact the State Archives at for more information.