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Thursday, October 8, 2009

American Archives Month

October is American Archives Month which celebrates the value of archives and archivists.

Archives provide researchers with firsthand facts and data from letters, diaries, reports, photographs, postcards, audio and video recordings, and other primary sources. You could say that archives preserve the "raw material" that is essential to understanding the past, present, and future.

When you donate your personal or family papers to an archives, your family history becomes a part of your community’s – and America’s – collective memory. Archives collect and protect the heritage of the area they serve.

In an effort to preserve history, great and small, archivists not only care for the items donated to their archive, but also do outreach to community groups to teach preservation methods. I have given lectures on preservation, including how to care for family photographs.

Here are a few tips to remember:

Do not store valuable paper or photographic collections in an attic or basement. These locations are commonly subjected to excessive heat and/or moisture. The best place to store items in a house is a room where the temperature and humidity remains the same year round (e.g. the master bedroom). Also, an interior closet (not on an outside wall) creates a relatively constant environment. It's important to remember that extreme fluctuations in temperature and humidity are damaging.

Light causes fading. Overall, it's best to keep photos in the dark. Direct sun or bright light will fade photographs. Hallways and other rooms without windows are best.

Color photos exposed to light will lose the red pigment first. The photo at right consists mostly of blue tones, having lost the red from light exposure. If you notice that damage has occurred, make a high-quality scan and display a digital print instead. Also, scanned images can be enhanced through Adobe Photoshop and other software.

Choose an archival photo album and archival photo corners.

Photo albums with "magnetic" pages (which actually contain adhesive that can stick to or react to photos) is the worst place for photos. Shown here is the condition in which the Maynard Family photo album was in when it was donated to the archives. Staff photographed each page to record the original order of the photos, since the album had to be dismantled to remove the photos from the sticky pages.

Also note that tape was used to adhere the photos to the pages. That's another problem with magnetic albums, sometimes they lose their sticking power and family's turn to tape to keep photos in place, permanently staining the originals.

Make preservation prints. By making a high-quality scan of your photos you can then make additional prints, and/or restore the image. The only way to conserve an original photograph is to take it to a photo conservator, but you can scan a photo and fix the digital image.

Here is an example of some minor restoration work on a digital scan. At left is the original photo with moisture damage, and at right the scanned image with dots removed from the subject's face.

Watch those fingers... The oil on your hands will leave an imprint on the face of a photo. You may not see the fingerprint immediately, but believe me, there are plenty of photos donated to archives with thumbprints! So, if you don't want a future detective using a photo as evidence against you, watch how you hold your photos! Remember to handle photos carefully and by the edges only.

As part of the celebration for American Archives Month, the Lake County History Archives and Curt Teich Postcard Archives are hosting behind-the-scenes tours on Thursday, October 15th (at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m.). The tours are free, but registration is required by calling 847-968-3381.

The Archives Tour is a great way to see how an archives works and to view the materials available to researchers. If you can't make the tour, but have questions about preserving a family heirloom, please give us a call.

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