Pittsburg County Genealogical and Historical Society, Inc.
E-mail: choctawnationit@sbcglobal.net

Care of Paper Items

Jennifer Day, CA
Manuscript archivist,
Oklahoma Historical Society
October 2, 2012


· Loose documents: land, military, or vital records, court documents, letters, legal papers
· Newspapers: full issues, single pages, clippings
· Scrapbooks: sticky pages, photo corners, items glued to paper pages, plastic sleeves
· Publications: books, magazines, brochures, pamphlets
· Oversized: day books or ledgers, certificates, posters, awards, maps, architectural drawings or plans


Paper consists of fibers made from organic material. Once made from linen rags, paper is now made from wood pulp and more recently recycled materials. The inherent acidity of these raw materials is what causes paper to decay. Efforts to control the acidity encompass the preservation of paper materials. Varying manufacturing processes have altered the quality and lifespan of paper throughout the 19th & 20th centuries. Paper quality began to decline in the early 20th century with the use of chemicals to soften the pulp. In the last 20 years, paper manufacturers have learned how to control the quality of paper thus lengthening its lifespan. Office supply and craft stores now carry acid-free papers, markers, and adhesives in efforts to create a more sustainable product. The term "acid-free" indicates that at the time or manufacturing the paper had a pH of 7 or neutral. This is an important distinction because the paper will, over time, become more acidic as it ages. The term "lignin free" is also seen on some paper items, this refers to a chemical process that removes the lignin, a naturally occurring substance that exacerbates the production of acid in paper fibers. The removal of lignin will slow the production of acid, thus increasing the lifespan of the paper.


There are many different types of paper, often paper items are constructed based on economic factors. Newspapers are one of the most commonly saved paper items. Unfortunately newsprint is the lowest quality paper. Due to the high volume of printing and because a new issue is printed daily, newsprint is made from low quality untreated wood pulp and is not designed for longevity. Stationary and typing papers are made from wood pulp and recycled materials which give letters a longer lifespan, depending on storage conditions. Carbon pages or tissue carbons were created as a surrogate of the original item and are often more acidic than their original and therefore will decay more quickly. Magazine pages, calendars and some brochures or yearbook pages are treated with a glaze called sizing which coats the paper in a slick or glossy finish. Sizing protects the paper from tears, surface dirt, and absorbing moisture. This protection from the environment will give these items a longer lifespan.


· Sunlight will fade print and accelerate decay of paper items. The ultraviolet light which occurs in sunlight as well as fluorescent light can fade photographs, paper items, and fabric. Anything paper or fabric should be stored in a box or otherwise protected from light and reproductions can be hung for display. Ambient light can affect the lifespan of these materials but direct sunlight or florescent light will surely cause irreparable damage. If you must display an original item, be sure to consult a professional framer and ask for museum quality UV filtered glass.
· Temperature and humidity. Controlling the storage environment is paramount for preservation of any historic materials. Always keep valued items in the temperature controlled areas of your home- if you are not comfortable the artifacts will not be comfortable either! Attics, garages and outbuildings are typical storage places and are the worst possible environment for preservation. Fluctuations in temperature can damage artifacts by causing them to swell and contract, weakening the paper fibers and inviting conditions for the growth of mold. Mold can grow in the presence of moist warm air, above 50% humidity and temperatures over 70 degrees. A mold outbreak can destroy valuable family treasures by causing irreparable damage. Mold spores are difficult to eradicate, but it is easy to keep them inactive by creating a cool dry environment. Battery powered temperature and humidity monitors are inexpensive and can be found at a home improvement store. Controlling the temperature is easier than controlling humidity, so in the event the moisture content of the air is high be sure to keep the temperature low and no mold will grow.
· Water damage. Exposure to moist conditions, sprinkler systems or flood can cause irreparable damage to paper items and artifacts. The fluctuation of moist conditions can cause books to swell and the pages to warp, any documents, photographs or magazines that become wet must be dried with care so the pages do not adhere. Disaster recovery services are prepared to handle most types of item or can refer you to a conservationist.
· Bugs and rodents will eat paper and use it to make their nests. Fabric and photographic materials are also favorites of burrowing pests. The cellulose content in wood pulp is delicious to crickets, roaches, silverfish, as well as mice and rats. Even tastier is the adhesive used to bind books or create scrapbooks. Keep your paper items safe by enclosing them in boxes without holes and storing the boxes inside your home or office, not the garage or shed where bugs love to hide.


A good rule of thumb for storing paper is to place a page of acid-free paper between any items that are different colors or different types of paper. This protects the pages from leeching acid onto each other which promotes decay.

Loose documents:

Remove from envelopes and gently unfold pages. If the fold resists or the paper begins to crack- stop! Dry or brittle paper or newsprint that has been folded may crack upon unfolding. Use caution! Place concave on a clean flat surface and place a clean book or weighted object on top to relax the folds. Let sit for 1 week or so, the pages will relax and are ready to place in folders. Remove large metal fasteners, brads, paper clips, or binder clips, as they warp the paper during storage. Place all envelopes immediately following the document it housed, make sure the adhesive flap is closed so it cannot reattach if exposed to moisture.


Unfold the paper to the largest size possible without cracking the pages. Place the newspapers in a box, storing horizontally. You can use a plastic container or tub, for clippings or whole issues. Clippings can be placed in folders, photocopying or scanning of newspaper is recommended, the newsprint will continue to decay even in perfect storage conditions.

Bound volumes or scrapbooks:

Bound volumes should always be stored horizontally. If stored vertically, the text block will pull away from the spine and eventually separate. It is best to box scrapbooks if they are particularly old or have items that may have come loose from the pages. If you have paper or photographic materials in scrapbooks with self-adhesive pages you should remove the items right away and store in folders or a new acid-free scrapbook using photo corners or other non-invasive attachment. Adhesive of any type can harm paper and attract pests.
Folders and boxes can be purchased from archival suppliers or retail office supply or organizational stores. See the appendix for shopping lists. Determine the most appropriate box for the paper items based on their size, place the items in folders if necessary and label the folders with pencil. Using a pencil rather than ink ensures that any exposure to moisture will not cause the ink to run or bleed onto the documents. If the box is not completely full, if the folders lean forward or slump, you must lay the box flat or fill the box entirely. Paper will assume its resting shape, so stored documents must be flat, vertically or horizontally, at all times. If you do not want to buy archival quality boxes, or would rather shop in town rather than online, take a trip to a scrapbooking or craft store and pick up a few plastic or paperboard paper storage boxes. These are durable and will protect your paper from moisture, rust, and pests. Storing paper in metal boxes can be risky if moisture is involved, the rusting of the metal box will spread to the paper and cause irrevocable damage. Wooden boxes are also not optimal, treated wood releases gasses that will harm paper and wood will retain more atmospheric moisture.



· Hang framed items without ultra-violet light protectant glass
· Hang frames items in direct sunlight
· Apply tape or glue to damaged items
· Unroll or unfold anything that is brittle or resists unfolding
· Laminate, dry mount or otherwise heat treat
· Store paper items in an area of your home that is not temperature controlled (garage, shed, barn, attic)
Duplication is the best way to ensure the longevity of your paper item and the information it contains. Photocopying, photography, or scanning your paper item will provide a back-up copy that you can display or use for research. A color copy is the best option when you want to display a paper item in your home. Keep the original safely stored away from light and enjoy the color copy on your wall.
Stabilization of paper items with clear plastic is also a great way to protect but still enjoy fragile items. This is known as encapsulation. You can find polyester or polypropylene sleeves at office or archival supply stores.

Boxes and supplies

Archival quality:


Office supply:

Organize.com sells paper boxes in letter and legal sizes, constructed of paperboard and fiberboard - http://www.organize.com/office.html

Craft supply:

Craft supply stores sell scrapbooking storage cases, plastic paper holders that range in size from 5"x7" to 14"x14" Most are designed to hold 12"x12" scrapbook pages, but the non-reactive plastic is a good choice for paper storage and the snap tight lids will keep pests at bay.

Shop for scrapbooking storage boxes at:


Internet resources for more Information:

The Northeast Document Conservation Center:

Located in Massachusetts, the NEDCC offers document conservation treatments and information regarding document and photograph care. http://www.nedcc.org/resources/introduction.php
Mary Lynn Ritzenthaler's Preservation of Archival Records: Holdings Maintenance at the National Archives. Ritzenthaler has written many procedures manuals and best practice guides for the Society of American Archivists, the Image Permanence Institute, and the National Archives. http://www.archives.gov/preservation/holdings-maintenance/table-of-contents.html
National Archives: How to Preserve Family Treasures: http://www.archives.gov/preservation/family-archives/
Library of Congress: How to store family items: http://www.loc.gov/preservation/family/

My contact information:

Jennifer Day, CA
Oklahoma Historical Society Research Division
800 Nazih Zuhdi Drive
Oklahoma City, Ok 73105-7917
The society exist on the dues of its members, sales of its publications, and donations.

Last Update: November 20, 2016 6:15 PM

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113 East Carl Albert Parkway; McAlester, Oklahoma 74501-5039; Phone: 918-426-0388