8 smart ways to store paper documents

July 29, 2015

Paper is ubiquitous — and surprisingly durable. By following these eight simple rules, you can make it possible for future generations to enjoy your cherished letters, prints, and news clippings.

8 smart ways to store paper documents

1. Keep paper dark and dry

  • Most types of paper can tolerate cool temperatures fairly well, although they can get brittle with prolonged exposure to light and temperatures above 24°C (75°F).
  • Dampness may be a far more serious risk to all paper products, however.
  • Excessive moisture destroys fibres and sizing, and often results in the development of harmful mould and mildew.
  • Ideally, paper should be kept away from light sources and stored at temperatures between 7° and 18°C (45° and 64°F), with a 60 per cent relative humidity level (although levels between 30 and 70 per cent are acceptable).

2. Keep papers flat

  • Keep newspaper clippings, prints, and other works on paper lying flat in storage.
  • This eliminates the need to fold and unfold them, which inevitably results in rips along the creases.

3. Use the right folders and envelopes

  • For additional protection, store documents in polypropylene or polyester-film (Mylar) folders or envelopes.
  • Polyester folders offer no added alkalinity, but they are clear and provide good support and protection for your documents.
  • Be careful, though. They can produce an electrostatic charge that may damage certain types of media, including pastel, charcoal, and some pencil drawings.

4. Store newspapers on buffered mats

  • Put newspapers and other types of paper with a high-acid content on buffered mats or paper, which contain added calcium carbonate or magnesium carbonate for extra alkalinity.
  • Buffered materials don't neutralize a paper's acidity, but they can slow down its rate of deterioration and prevent the acids from spreading to other documents.
  • They will eventually lose their protective properties, however, and need to be replaced periodically.

5. Keep handling to a minimum

  • Improper handling is to blame for the overwhelming majority of rips, creases, and stains on valuable paper documents and books.
  • If handling is required, wear white editing gloves to prevent damage from the oils and salts on your hands (use extra care because the gloves make it much easier for things to slip out of your hands).
  • When you need to move prints or other documents around your house, try sliding a slightly larger piece of stiff paper or matting underneath it to use as a carrying board.

6. Be smart about storage

  • Pack valuable prints and important documents inside stackable, rigid storage boxes made of noncorrosive metal, polyethylene, polypropylene, or acid-free cardboard.
  • To make it easier to locate specific items — and to limit unnecessary handling — label sheets of white, acid-free paper and place them between each document as dividers. Don't forget to label the outside of the boxes as well.

7. Get it framed

  • The best way to preserve old prints or precious documents is to have them professionally matted and framed.
  • Be sure to request a frame with both starch-paste hinges and an acid-free mat for mounting. Also, make certain that the paper doesn't touch the frame's glass.
  • If you intend to display the work in a sunny room, consider a frame with conservation glass or sheet acrylic (such as Plexiglas), either of which will reduce the document's exposure to the sun's harmful ultraviolet (UV) radiation.

8. Make a reference copy

  • Although photocopying documents, or scanning them into your PC, requires you to briefly expose them to intense light, the process may be beneficial over the long haul.
  • Because you have the copies to refer to, it will significantly reduce the amount of handling of the originals needed and will allow you to safely store the originals in the dark from that point on.
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