Photo sleeves, file folders, and those glorious metal-edge boxes are a must for any family archivist, but what else do you need for a well-rounded preservation system?
I have linked examples of each product available from my favorite archival supplier, Gaylord, but you might also wish to search for other size and style options they carry or options from other suppliers, such as Hollinger Metal Edge and University Products. (I’m not affiliated with Gaylord, I just really like their products!)
- Folder supports: It’s dangerous to partially fill a box. Whether it’s a small document box or a large record carton, improperly supported folders will cause documents to bend and warp. Supports are available for various sized boxes and can be adjusted depending on the amount of empty space in the box. See on Gaylord.
- Index dividers: I don’t have enough photos (or enough money) to purchase flip-top photo boxes for every branch of my family tree. Luckily these handy archival index dividers are already sized to fit my photo boxes so I can separate my photos by surname, event, decade, etc. See on Gaylord.
- Tissue paper: Tissue paper can serve many purposes. It can wrap delicate objects and textiles, it can alleviate creases in fabrics, it can serve as interleaving between documents, it can provide a barrier between non-archival materials and historical objects, it can fill space in a container to cushion items and prevent jostling. Archival tissue can be ordered in bulk from specialty suppliers but for small quantities check the Container Store, just be sure to check that it’s archival tissue and not gift wrap tissue. Also do some research to determine whether buffered or unbuffered tissue is better suited to your purpose. See on Gaylord.
- Spatula: This is a must for anyone trying to remove photos from albums. Just be sure to do some research on preserving scrapbooks and photo albums to decide if you really need to remove the photos before you get started. See on Gaylord.
- Marking pencil: Knowing the context of a photo is so important but if nothing is written on the back it can easily be lost to time. Regular #2 pencils can be used on paper photos but a specialty marking pencil can be used on modern resin-coated photos. It is soft, so you don’t need to press firmly, and erasable. See on Gaylord.
- Media storage cases: Plenty of audio-visual media come with cases, such as VHS sleeves, film canisters and plastic audio cassette cases. However, these cases are often not protective enough, or have been stored poorly resulting in damage or a build up of dust and debris that can harm your precious media. In addition to digitizing the contents, consider investing in new, clean containers made from inert materials to protect the original objects. See on Gaylord.
- Tags: If only you could attach a story to a three-dimensional family heirloom. With a tag you can easily add information about an item’s age, origin, and a brief description. Archival tags are made from materials that won’t damage your artifacts and will last for generations to come, so the story won’t be lost! See on Gaylord.
- Printer paper: Another great multitasker! Acid and lignin-free buffered printer paper can be used as interleaving between acidic papers. It is also great to have on hand when you want to print things that will last. Writing a family history? Printing a hard copy of a born-digital record? Putting it on archival paper will help it last longer than standard office paper. See on Gaylord.
- Carton trays: You might have seen archival record cartons, which are a wonderful multi-purpose container, but these stackable trays are a great way to safely store smaller items inside a carton without putting too much weight on top of them. You can cushion heirlooms with tissue or some polyester batting covered with tissue. Three trays will fit inside a single carton. See on Gaylord.
And number ten…
DIY bench weights: Okay, these aren’t so much a preservation supply as a digitization supply. Bench weights are useful when trying to hold books open, keep curled items flat and open attached pages without creasing them while you are trying to use a camera, overhead scanner, or just study a document.
I was inspired to make them while scanning Civil War pension files at NARA, where the archivists used them to open fastened pages on their overhead scanner. I used them often while scanning SAR applications at the Indiana State Library last year.
These should not be left on items for long periods of time, since they are not made of archival materials, nor placed in a way that would damage the item. (These are not appropriate for attempting to permanently uncurl paper or photographic items, for that you should consult a conservator.)
My homemade bench weights from my mother are circles of non-dyed cotton flannel that have been filled with steel BB shot. They are simple to make, especially since they have exposed seams. Just sew up the edges, fill with weight, then hand-stitch closed. You could make them larger to use with oversized items or longer to hold down a whole book page uniformly.
What other supplies belong on this list? Let me know in the comments!