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Media & the Internet  - February 2008

I may not be a church mouse, but I am definitely a Protestant Packrat.

Jesus taught his followers that they should store up heavenly treasures “where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal” (Matthew 6:20). That becomes much more real when you consider the state of home security at that time.

Thieves could literally dig their way through a wall, while limited storing options meant that moths and rust were a very real and constant presence.

Nowadays many of our memories and pieces of historical information face additional dangers. A former supervisor of mine once lost several years’ worth of company photos because of a computer virus. (For the record, it was on a Mac.) Last summer my own hard drive crashed, and I had to recover six months of files and pictures.

Whether you are trying to preserve your church’s history, computer files or the stuff in your hall closet, use the following tips to safeguard your memories for future generations.

Avoidance. Surprise! Things that you don’t like are also not good for print, photo and electronic materials, either: Extreme temperatures and humidity levels, or large fluctuations in either. Dust. Water. Direct sunlight.

Gravity can be another problem over time. Avoid this by storing videocassettes on their end rather than flat or on long side. Don’t shelve books so that the spine is on top. Even a DVD or CD in Mylar sleeves of jewel cases can warp over time when not stored vertically.

People. Each of us can have the capacity to ruin materials. For a CD or DVD, fingerprints can actually be more harmful to the data than scratches. Wearing gloves can avoid the oils in or lotions on your hands that damage archival print or electronic media.

Food and drink not only can cause stains but could also attract destructive critters.

Identification. Most of us have pictures that are unidentifiable. However, by writing directly on materials you can leave imprints or smears. Instead, write softly with a pencil near the edges to avoid any show-through markings. On resin-coated photos, use an archival film-marking pen.

On CDs/DVDs, labeling with a ball point pen or similar hard-tipped marker can destroy the data; a better alternative is to use a Sharpie-type marker, or an inkjet printer to directly label a printable disk.

Labels with strong glues, peeling labels, or wobbling caused by labels not centered are also hazards. Don’t use paper labels on DVDs. Make sure that videotape labels are not loose or on the door of the cassette.

Storage. Our choice of media storage materials now can have long-lasting affects later, both good and bad. With pictures, never use sticky or “magnetic” photo pages; archival sleeves are better than plastic ((PVC) pages. Don’t bundle materials with tape, staples, rubber bands, or paper clips.

Do not store textiles in direct contact with unsealed wood. Although a cedar trunk will keep moths at bay, it also gives off acidic emissions.

A final caveat: Products that are archival quality or made of acid-free materials may cost more but will preserve better over time, whether it is paper, folders, a video sleeve or a storage box. To be sure of the materials, buy them from a reputable source.

Examination. Physical exams are good for both you and your historical materials. Look for signs of aging, deterioration or cracking. Use your nose, too: Deteriorating negatives may emit a vinegar smell.

Time. Backing up and transferring materials to the latest storage medium is a good plan. However, quality counts. Rewritable (RW) format CDs could actually last as little as a few months rather than a one-time burned disk. Printing photos can be affected by both ink and paper. Microfilming records is still the best method of backing up copy.

Angela Stiffler, archivist at the Partee Center for Baptist Historical Studies at William Jewell College ( This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it or 816-415-7620) offers assistance in preserving any media or historical materials, including suggesting archival supplies to purchase and practical preservation tips. The center can also arrange training sessions for any size group.

Nothing lasts forever, but you can improve your odds with some forethought.

Links:
Library of Congress Preservation: Caring for your collection
Discover Nikkei: How to preserve your own history (wide diversity of helps and links)
National Film and Sound Archives: How to care for your video
Library of Congress: Preserving your digital memories and digital media quiz
Southern Baptist Historical Library and Archives archive articles
Why do-it-yourself photo printing doesn't add up by Damon Darlin (NY Times, 10/8/05)

Free Downloads:
Wilhelm Imaging Research: The Permanence and Care of Color Photographs (758 pages - 80MB download)
A Consumer Guide to Traditional and Digital Print Stability
Brodart: Guide to Book Care and Repair (and other helps)

 
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