Tribune Print Share Text

Protecting your keepsakes: Some tips from the American Institute for Conservation

Created date

June 22nd, 2009

In an April post entitledRescuing film classics, I wrote about director Martin Scorsese's Film Foundation, an organization dedicated to the preservation of cinema's greatest treasures. This got me thinking about how we can preserve the treasures that we have in our own homes things like photographs, books, old letters, and original artwork. With help from the good folks at the American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works, I pulled together some conservation tips that might help.Books

  • Books require a cool, dry environment. Extremes in moisture and temperature can promote mold growth and cause the books to expand and contract, damaging the pages and their binding.
  • Avoid prolonged exposure to ultraviolet light sources like sunshine and fluorescent bulbs.
  • Books displayed on shelves should stand vertically, supported on both sides by an adjacent volume or bookend (but not too tightly). Leaning them diagonally against opposing surfaces can distort the spine and damage the cover.
  • When packing your books for storage, use acid-free corrugated cardboard boxes available through conservator supply shops and specialty book stores.


  • Always keep photographs in a cool, dry, and well-ventilated place. High temperatures and moisture levels can accelerate deterioration and the growth of damaging molds.
  • Protect photos from dust and light damage by storing them in plastic or paper containers that are chemically stable and free of acids, sulfur, and peroxides. When using photo albums, avoid those with magnetic or sticky pages, and store them in custom-fitted, acid-free boxes.
  • Avoid prolonged exposure to light. Whenever possible, display a duplicate in place of the original, and frame it with acid-free materials and ultraviolet-filtering glass.

Documents, Letters, and Paper-based Artwork

  • Keep paper products like letters, drawings, and newspapers cool and dry.
  • Limit exposure to ultraviolet light. Use incandescent or tungsten bulbs when viewing the documents or lighting them for display.
  • Whether you're storing or displaying paper materials, make sure you do it using chemically stable folders, boxes, and matboards strong enough to prevent bending and distortion.

For more information on protecting your keepsakes, visit the American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works.Source: The AIC's online guides to "Caring for Your Treasures."