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Local History Notes

Notes about the history of Iredell County by Joel Reese, Local History Librarian.

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Dec 23

Archival Materials for Preservation

Posted on December 23, 2019 at 3:43 PM by Jenny Levins

The Iredell County Public Library Local History Department is in the process of separating, identifying, restoring, and indexing the library’s photo collection. Most of these come from the Stimson Photography Studio that operated in downtown Statesville starting around 1890. Volunteers have been working at the library to help identify people in many of the portrait photos that we do not have names for. We have been scanning the oversize 16 x 20 photos on the library’s new HP LaserJet M5035 MFP Copier. This copier allows us to scan oversize objects and save the images as jpg images at 600 dpi on DVD and on an Iomega® StorCenter Pro NAS 150d/1TB Server which acts as an external hard drive to store the images on for backup. We believe that we will probably find negatives for most of these oversize photos later on in the boxes we have not gone through yet. When we locate these, we will scan them as tiff images at 600 dpi and save them as the master images. We choose to work with the oversize photos first to get them out of the way and because they are easier for people to help identify. 

Reference Librarian Mardi Durham and I recently attended an online class in “Preservation of Photographic Materials” taught by SOLINET, the Southeastern Library Network. We received a lot of information and suggestions as to how we should go about handling the photos and negatives. You have probably seen photo albums in stores that have the words, “PCV Safe.”  PVC or Polyvinyl chloride is widely used and one of the most valuable products of the chemical industry. It is used as vinyl siding, magnetic stripe cards, plumbing and conduit fixtures, and in its softer form clothing and upholstery. For many years it was used in clear protector sheets holding photos in photo albums. Unfortunately, the chemical nature of PCV caused photos to fade and deteriorate over time. Most photo albums now say they use PCV safe materials in their product. 

What a product advertises itself to be archival safe and photo safe it means that the product is free from chemicals that are harmful or accelerate the deterioration process. Archival safe means that it is free from acid, lignin, and PVC.  Non-archival materials such as newspaper clippings, ticket stubs, greeting cards, and other wood-based products that have chemicals used in the ink for coloring and printing will often emit gases that cause the paper to deteriorate and fade. 

It is recommended that you not even place such items in your scrapbooks with your photos. Encapsulating these items in clear plastics like lamination only makes it worse. Once you laminate a newspaper you basically lock in the harmful gases coming off the ink and the paper inside increasing the amount of damage the paper receives. If you ever see a newspaper that has been laminated you will usually notice how yellow and brittle it soon becomes. If you have a newspaper it is best to place it in an acid free box and allow it to breath rather than locking it into a plastic container. 

You can also de-acidify non-archival grade materials such as newspapers by treating them with a mild chemical base to neutralize the natural acids that occur in pulp wood. Acid free paper has a pH of 7.0 meaning that it is neutral. If the paper says it is acid free then it was treated during the manufacturing process so there is no acid in the pulp. Lignin or lignen is a complex chemical compound usually derived from wood and an integral part of the cell walls of plants. It has natural acids that occur in wood pulp products such as paper. Many companies that sell archival products sell sprays to de-acidify paper along with acid free photo albums and boxes and sleeves for photos and negatives. 

I was advised by archivist to be careful of buying albums and materials claiming to be archival free from department stores as there really is no way of knowing if they are acid or PCV free or not. The North Carolina State Archives recommends purchasing from companies that specialize in archival materials. Those recommended include Gaylord at www.gaylord.com, or 1-800-448-6160, University Products at www.universityproducts .com, or 1-800-532-9281, Light Impressions at www.lightimpressionsdirect.com, or 1-800-828-6216, Metal Edge, Inc., at www.metaledgeinc.com, or 1-800-862-2228, and The Hollinger Corp., at www.hollingercorp.com, or 1-800-634-0491. Each of these companies will send you a free catalog of their supplies by contacting them.

People often wonder where to take their rare books, maps, photos, and artifacts for preservation work. The Iredell County Public Library has had good success using the HF Group out of Greensboro. They come highly recommended by the N.C. State Archives and the State Library and are used by both the University of North Carolina and Duke University. They can handle and restore almost any rare material. You can reach them at www.thehfgroup.com or at The HF Group, 6204 Corporate Park Drive, Browns Summit, N.C. 27214 or at 1-800-444-7534 or 336-931-0800. 

Joel Reese, Local History Librarian
Iredell County Public Library

This article appeared in the Statesville Record and Landmark as “Use care when choosing archival materials” on August 13, 2008

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