Tip from the Archivist: What a Mess! Preserving Scrapbooks

A scrapbook that has seen better days. From the Elizabeth Wyner Mark Papers.

A scrapbook that has seen better days. From the Elizabeth Wyner Mark Papers.

Tip from the Archivist: What a Mess! Preserving Scrapbooks

If you have scrapbooks at home, you may be wondering how to best preserve them. Although most “modern era” scrapbook materials are made of acid free paper, adhesive and bindings, scrapbooks from the early to mid-20th century are often made of poorer quality materials, which can degrade and harm the items enclosed in the scrapbook. Archivists have a love-hate relationship with scrapbooks: the best can capture a person’s lifetime and era, but it is inevitable that they will have to be dismantled in order to preserve the ephemera, photographs and news clippings prevalent inside the bindings.

Here are some tips on preserving scrapbooks, both modern and vintage:

1. Keep your scrapbooks (and photo albums) in a cool, dry location in your home- definitely not in your attics, basement or garages! Humidity can cause warping, mold growth and staining.

2. Store your scrapbooks flat, and if possible, in acid free archival boxes. This puts less pressure on the bindings and keeps the pages from folding under the weight of the book.

3. Acid migration is a huge problem for scrapbooks with acidic pages, or with newspaper clippings. You can interleave the pages of the scrapbook with unbuffered, acid free tissue to deter acid from leaching onto the opposite page. If you can (and you should) photocopy all news clippings on acid free paper and discard the originals. Newsprint is the worst type of paper – acidic, brittle and messy; it leaches onto everything!

4. If the binding of a scrapbook is in bad condition, it may make more sense to disband the scrapbook and file items in acid free folders, and store them in acid free boxes. The materials within the scrapbook are more important than the book itself!

5. If you are in the habit of scrapbooking, make sure your scrapbook, as well as any adhesives, photograph paper, and decorative emblems, are made from acid free paper. Kolo makes acid free scrapbooks, and archival supply companies such as Hollinger Metal Edge and Gaylord Brothers also sell them.

6. Do not use adhesive of any kind on photographs – photo corners are easily found in craft stores and are preferred. If you must use adhesive, use one that is specifically labeled photo safe (the label should say it passed the Photo Activity Test or “PAT” test). This tape is also a preferred adhesive for other items in your scrapbook.

If you have specific questions about preserving your scrapbooks, email us! We’re happy to help.

For more information and resources:

Florida Dept. of State Division of Library and Information Services

Library of Congress

Rocky Mountain Archivists

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