Melissa Barker, The Archive Lady, helps you decide which is “more archival” – photo albums or photo boxes? Learn the best ways to preserve your family photos!
Robert in Tennessee asks: “I have been following your blog for some time now and I have seen you talk about photo albums and photo boxes for preserving photographs. Which method would you say is the most archival and one that I should use?”
Robert asks a great question about preserving photographs. I actually get this one a lot as an archivist and the honest truth is, each method is a great way to preserve photographs. What each person needs to do is determine which method works best for them and their situation.
First and foremost, when working with photographs it is essential to wear gloves. The dirt and oils in our hands can cause damage to photographs over time. It is highly recommended by the Society of American Archivists, as well as by those who work with photographs on a regular basis, that wearing gloves is needed.
Photo albums can be a great way to preserve your photograph collection as long as archival photo albums are purchased. There are several online archival stores (see list below) that have photo albums that are acid free, lignin free and have passed the P.A.T. These albums come in different colors and some even have different pattern decorations. Once you have an archival photo album you are ready to put your photographs in the album. Before placing your photographs in the sleeves that go into the album, be sure to identify the individuals, buildings, places, etc. that are in the photographs. Your descendants will thank you! If you do not know any information about the photograph (maybe they came into your possession unidentified) that is okay.
Once the photo album is filled, it is important to store these albums in a safe environment. Photo albums should be stored lying down and not standing on their ends. Storing photo albums on their ends can put a strain on the binding and cause it to break down and eventually fail. If using photo albums, it is important to remember that the pages or sleeves can sag or become deformed if improperly stored. This is why it is always a good idea to store photo albums lying down on their side. Also remember to store photographs in a cool, dark and dry place away from the sunlight and in a temperature and humidity controlled environment.
Preserving photographs in photograph boxes is also a great archival method. Purchasing photo sleeves and archival boxes can be a bit more expensive, but is well worth the cost. The online archival stores have photo sleeves in different sizes and you should be able to find sleeve sizes to accommodate most all of your photographs. The archival box that should be used is a personal preference. You can purchase photo boxes that are specifically for photographs or you can use a Hollinger box. It is important to note that if you decide to use Hollinger boxes, you will need to also use archival file folders so that the photographs will be stored flat and well supported.
Once the photographs are in their sleeves and stored in the photo boxes, these boxes can be stored on shelves, one on top of the other. Again, store these boxes in a cool, dark and dry place away from temperature and humidity fluctuations.
Both of these methods are sound archival steps to take to preserve your photographs collections.
Online Archival Material Websites
Here is a listing of online archival materials stores. Photo albums, sleeves and photo boxes can be purchased at any of the following online archival stores. They all have online catalogs and paper catalogs that can be sent to your home. Also, be sure to sign up for email notifications because they periodically have sales and will send out email notifications.
- Gaylord Archival
- Hollinger Metal Edge
- University Products
- Light Impressions
- Archival Methods
- Print File Archival Storage
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Melissa Barker lives in Tennessee Ridge, Tennessee. She is the Houston County (TN) Archivist and a Professional Genealogist. She writes the blog, A Genealogist in the Archives, and has been researching her own family for over 26 years. She lectures, teaches and writes about researching in archives and records preservation.
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