Harry Ransom CenterThe University of Texas at Austin

email signup
Search Collections

The King James Bible: Its History and Influence

Return to exhibition

Caring for Your Family Bible

How can I best preserve my books?

You can best preserve and prolong the life of your valuable documents, books, and photographs by establishing and maintaining a good storage environment. Other factors to consider are location, storage furniture, storage enclosures, housekeeping, and handling. These factors are discussed below.

Climate
Papers, books, and photographs survive well in the same environments that people find comfortable. Keep the environment constant at a cool temperature and moderate relative humidity: 68-70 degrees Fahrenheit with 50% relative humidity with no greater than a 5% drift over 24 hours is often recommended.

Location
A centrally located interior room, closet, or vault is the best location for storing keepsakes. Attics are alternately too hot and cold; basements are too cold and damp. Spare rooms that are cut off from air circulation and heating and cooling can also get too cold or hot depending on the season. Look for areas that do not have water and sewage pipes, furnaces, stoves, fireplaces, and air conditioning/heating vents near them. Likewise, avoid areas directly across from windows, especially those that get full sunlight. Areas where food is stored or served are also unsuitable.

Storage
Store your materials in good quality paper board boxes (see question and answer regarding "archival" and "good quality" materials) and drawers to keep out dust, dirt, and light. Anodized aluminum and powder coated or baked enamel over metal shelving are best. Papers and photographs should be placed in folders in boxes on shelves wide enough to accommodate them. Books should be shelved upright whenever possible. Books can also be individually boxed or fitted with clear sleeves of polyester terephthalate film (such as MYLAR Type D™, or Melinex 516™) around the dust jackets. Vellum parchment skins can be stored in the same way as paper, photographs and books. Skins, as well as many other organic materials, are very sensitive to moisture and heat, so make certain these elements are under control.

Handling
The oils and dirt from hands can be damaging to books, papers, and photographic materials. Wash hands before handling your collections. Keep food and drink away from the area when using collections.

Housekeeping
Clean storage areas regularly to reduce dirt. Dirt and neglect attract insects and pests. Keep air circulating to retard mold growth, especially in warmer, wetter climates.

How will I know when a storage product is "archival" or "good quality"?

Look for papers and boards made of 100% rag (cotton, or linen) or alpha-cellulose. Papers with alkaline reserves (often 3.5% calcium or magnesium carbonate) are suitable for storing acidic collection materials such as newspapers and family letters and documents. Alkaline papers meeting ANSI/NISO standards IT 9.2 1998, Z39.48-1992, and ISO 11108:1996 are considered permanent and suitable for long term storage. In addition, there are new papers and boards on the market that contain synthetic zeolites (charcoal is a natural zeolite). Zeolites are believed to remove pollutants from the air and those off-gassing from documents, books, and photographs. Look for Conservation Resource's MicroChamber™ product line and Nielsen-Bainbridge's ArtCare™ matboard product line.

The only plastics that are considered suitable for use with papers, books, and photographs are uncoated and unplasticized polyester terephthalate (such as MYLAR Type D™, or Melinex 516™), polyethylene, and polypropylene. In addition, some manufacturers will indicate products that have passed the P.A.T (Photographic Activity Test, ANSI/NAPM Standard IT.9.16 1993) and are considered safe for storing photographs. Materials passing the P.A.T. will also be suitable for use with paper and book collections.

How do I keep my documents from fading?

You can help keep your books, documents, and photographs from fading by keeping them in the dark. Fading is primarily caused by exposure to light, especially sunlight and direct lamp light. When using light, limit the exposure and intensity of the light source. Blocking out the ultraviolet component to the light will also help reduce, but will not eliminate fading.

The ink on my documents has faded. How can I make it darker to read?

Chemical methods to darken inks are ultimately damaging to documents and are currently not recommended. Conservation treatment can lighten some papers thereby increasing the contrast between ink and paper and improving the ability to read documents. However, this is not necessarily suitable or possible with all types of papers and inks. There are some non-destructive technical methods that can help fading ink appear darker. Ultraviolet light can cause the brightener to fluoresce in some papers making inks appear more visible. (A black-light is usually a long-wave ultraviolet light source.) Sometimes inks are made visible using an infrared viewer. However, viewers can be expensive and hard to find. Black and white photographic prints from infrared film can sometimes show increased contrast between ink and paper. Likewise, some types of faded ink will appear darker to the eye in a standard black and white photographic print. Also, sometimes a copier set on a darker setting will produce a copy that's easier to read than the original.

My papers have holes in and near the ink. What is this and what can I do to protect my documents?

A common pre-twentieth century ink that often causes holes in paper is iron gall ink. It is acidic and corrosive to paper. To protect your documents and books with iron gall ink on them, keep the papers in a good quality alkaline paper enclosure and consult a paper or book conservator. Contact the American Institute for Conservation by email at info@aic-faic.org for a list of conservators. For those wishing more information regarding the effects of iron gall ink, consult the Iron Gall Ink Corrosion Website.

My documents and book pages are torn. What archival and safe material can I use to repair the damage?

Conservators use cooked purified starch pastes and food-grade cellulose ethers applied to good quality, long-fiber, thin papers for repairing tears. These adhesives contain moisture that can expand papers or bleed inks so care must be taken not to damage the original while mending. Modern synthetic adhesives are sometimes used, chosen by project and adhesive characteristic. Single items can be stored in sleeves of polyester terephthalate without plasticizers and coatings (MYLAR Type D™, Melinex 516™) to keep torn materials together if mending is not possible.

Which archival tapes should I use to fix my keepsakes?

Unfortunately, there are not any pressure-sensitive adhesive tapes on the market that are safe for use on papers, books, or photographs despite manufacturer's claims to the contrary. Books and portfolios with detached spines and boards can be temporarily held together by wrapping flat cotton string, ribbons, or twill fabric sewing tapes around the item. Single items can be stored in sleeves of polyester terephthalate without plasticizers and coatings (MYLAR Type D™, Melinex 516™) to keep torn materials together until a conservator can be consulted. Tapes with water and moisture activated adhesives (examples are gummed glassine and brown paper) are often less damaging than pressure-sensitive tapes, however, they are becoming difficult to find in stores.

Pressure-sensitive tapes are not recommended because of the extensive damage that they cause. Pressure-sensitive adhesives can chemically cross-link with the papers, photographs, and books to which they are adhered making removal difficult and time consuming if at all possible. In addition, pressure-sensitive adhesives can stain materials, bleed inks, and cold flow (adhesive oozes) adhering to other items. Some pressure-sensitive tapes shrink as they age causing distortion and tearing of papers.

While NOT recommended, if you feel that a pressure-sensitive tape MUST be used or the document will be permanently damaged or lost, use tape with an acrylic adhesive (example 3M #810™ clear tape) as sparingly as possible (short sectional bridges across the tear instead of along the entire length of the tear) and apply the tape on the back or in areas where there is no writing, printing, or photographic emulsion.

My book covers are orange and powdery. What is this and what do I do to stop it?

As leather deteriorates it often becomes powdery. This type of deterioration is often referred to as red rot. Once leather has deteriorated to this stage, there is little that can be done and the damage cannot be reversed. Polyester jackets and archival paperboard boxes can be used to isolate the red rot powder and protect adjacent items. In some cases a conservator can apply a consolidant but this treatment can make the leather rigid and cause color changes. Contact the AIC at info@aic-faic.org or the Guild of Bookworkers for a listing of book conservators in your area.

My leather book covers have whitish deposits on them. What is this and what do I do to stop it?

Leather book covers can sometimes develop whitish deposits. Sometimes the whitish deposits are mold. Another type of deposit is called spew or spue. The spew deposits can be fats or salts. Storing books in a lower temperature and humidity usually reduces the occurrence of this type of problem (68-70 degrees Fahrenheit with 50% relative humidity +/- 5% drift over 24 hours is often recommended). The whitish deposits can often be reduced or removed from leather book covers. Contact the at info@aic-faic.org or the Guild of Bookworkers for a listing of book conservators in your area.

What kind of leather dressing should I use on my books?

Leather dressings were once thought to prevent leather deterioration and improve flexibility. Recent research indicates this is not true and use of leather dressings are no longer recommended for routine care. There are several potential problems with the use of leather dressings such as determining the type and amount of dressing to use. Lack of freshness of the dressings, aging characteristics of the oils used to make the dressings, and chemical interactions between dressings and processed leathers are also potential problems.

What is the difference between paper and vellum parchment documents? How do I tell them apart?

Paper is made from plants whereas vellum and parchment are made from the skins of animals. During processing, the skins are stretched and dried. Paper has replaced skins for most uses, but skins are still used for some documents such as certificates and diplomas. "Parchment paper" is a type of paper and not a skin.

Upon close inspection of the surface of a skin, it is often possible to see veins and hair-follicle holes. The hair side of the skin is sometimes burnished smoother than the flesh side which can be napped and rough. On the smooth side, indentations and scrape marks from the processing knife can be seen at times. Skins are very reactive to moisture so it is important not to get water near them or store them in areas of high humidity. Skins that have been damaged by moisture or heat can be distorted, stiff and translucent. Skins also have a tendency to curl.

Where do I find out more about the conservation of leather and parchment?

Extensive research on the conservation of leather and parchment has been done at the Koninklijke Bibliotheek in the Netherlands. Learn more

I have discovered my documents are moldy. What should I do?

There are many different types of molds and some can be hazardous to your health. Take appropriate personal protection such as wearing mouth and nose filter masks when working with moldy materials. Use plastic or latex gloves when isolating the moldy materials in plastic bags. Consult a conservator as soon as possible. A listing of conservators in the USA is available by contacting the AIC or by phone at 202-452-9545 or by email at info@aic-faic.org.

How do I keep my documents from getting moldy?

You can help to prevent your documents, books, and photographs from getting moldy by keeping the storage environment at steady temperature and humidity levels (68-70 degrees Fahrenheit with 50% relative humidity +/- 5% drift over 24 hours is often recommended). Keep the air circulating in the storage area. In addition, filter your air using charcoal filters to remove pollution, dust and dirt, and desiccants to reduce humidity. Store your materials in good quality boxes and drawers to keep out dust, dirt, and mold spores. Perform routine housekeeping to reduce dust and dirt levels.

How do I keep my documents free from insects?

The best way to keep bugs out of your valuable documents is to maintain regular housekeeping practices such as dusting (without sprays), vacuuming, removing trash, screening drains and sinks, checking for leaks in pipes, keeping air circulating, etc. Keep the storage environment at lower temperature and humidity levels (68-70 degrees Fahrenheit with 50% relative humidity +/- 5% drift over 24 hours is often recommended). Examine newly acquired additions to your collection for the presence of insects and mold before putting them near your collection.

I have found insects in my collections. What can I use to eliminate them that is safe for my documents and artifacts?

The best thing to do when finding pests in your collections is to NOT spray pesticides! These are very damaging to your collection materials. "Sticky traps" can be used to capture insects and help identify them so the appropriate control method can be chosen. Consult with professional conservators and entomologists on the appropriate use of methods such as poison bait disks, boric acid, silica gel, and freezing or oxygen deprivation (anaerobic conditions). More information

My documents, books, and photographs have gotten wet. What do I do to salvage them?

To salvage a small number of damp or slightly wet items, dry the material and the environment as soon as possible. If sewage is involved, wear personal protection equipment and rinse the material in clear water if possible before drying the material. Set up fans to circulate air and dehumidifiers to remove moisture from the air.

There are several methods for drying books. When air drying, stand books upright on a table and fan open the pages to expose them to circulating air. Drying the cover of books before standing them up can prevent some distortion and damage. Open book covers and lay the text block at the edge of a table with one cover hanging off the table. Hold the other cover away from the textblock. While the book is in either an upright or horizontal position, crumpled papers such as unprinted newsprint, blotters, and, in a pinch, paper towels can hold covers away from the text block and be placed in between groups of the wet pages.

Photographs should be laid flat, emulsion side up, on screens or blotters to dry. Very wet paper documents should also be dried flat. Slightly damp documents can be dried flat or attached with clothes pins to or gently draped over a hanging line to air dry.

If a large number of papers and books are water damaged and there is not enough space or proper conditions to dry the materials, freeze them as soon as possible. Fast and cold freezing (blast freezing) reduces the size of ice crystals that are formed. Larger ice crystals can damage materials such as paint layers or photographic emulsions. Contact a freeze-drying company to dry out the material. It is helpful to investigate websites and local yellow pages for suitable companies (these will vary by area) in advance of potential need.

My documents were in a fire. What should I do to preserve them?

Preserve brittle fire damaged papers by placing them in rigid folders or polyester terephthalate sleeves (such as MYLAR Type D™ or Melinex 516™). Consult a conservator for treatment. Email the AIC at info@aic-faic.org for a listing of conservators in your area, or call them at 202 452-9545.

 

 

Become a fan
Delve deeper into the Ransom Center's collections and programs. Become a member today.
Connect with the
Harry Ransom Center
Flickr YouTube RSS Tumblr Facebook Twitter
eNews

Stay up to date with the Ransom Center's latest news and events with eNews, the Center's free monthly electronic newsletter.

Subscribe to eNews

View Past Issues