One of the most treasured family history possessions a person can inherit is a family Bible, sometimes complete with a front page with family names and dates going back generations. A close contender for the best family history possession might be a family scrapbook that could contain a collection of newspaper articles, photos, school report cards, and perhaps even dried flowers or locks of hair. Recipes books and even just cherished volumes belonging to distant ancestors also sometimes make their way down through generations. If you’re someone fortunate enough to inherit an item such as one of these treasures, you likely recognize its importance—but that doesn’t mean you know what to do with it. While these bound books share some similarities with documents in preservation techniques, they also come with a host of their own unique problems—and solutions. Read on to learn some tips and tricks to help you prolong the life of your most valuable books.
Storing and Handling
To prolong the life of your family books, keep in mind some basic storage and handling principles:
- Store books in cool, dry places—which generally don’t include garages, attics, or basements unless they are temperature regulated and located in dry environments.
- If possible, store books flat in archival quality boxes. This sort of storage protects them from dust and sunlight and the damage caused by pages pulling away from the binding when books are left upright. The American Library Association has some recommendations on finding suitable boxes.
- Be careful when opening old books. If needed, provide support for the cover boards to prevent the book from opening all the way flat, which can cause damage to the spine and binding.
- Get a good grip on the middle of the book if you are pulling it from a shelf, instead of yanking from the binding alone.
- Avoid folding down corners or using rubber bands, paper clips, or bookmarks made of acidic paper (any nonarchival paper) to mark pages.
- Make sure your hands are clean and dry before touching the books.
- Keep food, drink, and ink away from books.
The Special Case of Scrapbooks
To say that the great majority of the scrapbooks of yesteryear were not made with preservation in mind would be an understatement. Most older family scrapbooks are brimming with preservation problems. For starters, they were made of poor-quality, acidic paper that deteriorates rapidly and damages photos or other objects attached to it. Adhesives such as tape, glue, and rubber cement that were often used to connect everything damaged papers, photos, and other items on the pages. Also, those fun extras, such as badges, dried flowers, multipage letters, or brochures, increase a book’s thickness, which makes it difficult for it to close properly and harms the binding.
These problems could make anyone want to throw her hands in the air—or at least get to work taking everything apart in an effort to save the items. But don’t do either of these things! Most experts recommend leaving the scrapbook together when possible. Leaving it as it is provides a richer historical context and prevents further damage that could occur by trying to peel and pry pieces apart. If the binding allows, place thin, archival-quality papers between the pages. As with other fragile books, store family scrapbooks flat in archival safe containers.
Finding a way to digitize these historical treasures is an important step in their preservation. Depending on the book and its condition, it may be possible to scan it as you would a document. Do not force pages open. Instead of laying a book flat on a scanner, you can use a handheld scanner to minimize stress on the book. And of course, it isn’t necessary to digitize the entire book of Isaiah in your family Bible—just scan the relevant family pages. Another option for creating a digital copy, particularly for scrapbooks, is to take photos of the pages.
So start preserving your important books now. And as you create new scrapbooks or recipe books, make sure you do it with preservation in mind—and skip the bottles of rubber cement.
For More Information
1) The Library of Congress, “Care, Handling, and Storage of Books,” and “Preservation Basics: Preservation of Scrapbooks and Albums”
2) Smithsonian.com, “How to Preserve a Family Album Smithsonian-Style”
3) Archival Methods, “Archivally Preserving Old Books”
Don’t foget to add everything to the Memories Gallery when you’re done!
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