Scrapbooks and albums provide a unique record of individuals, families, organizations, and associations and are, therefore, found in many museums, archives, and libraries. Although albums initially were tablets used by the Romans to record public edicts, they have become accounts accumulated over time, often private and personal, preserved on blank pages in a book format. The use of photograph albums became widespread in the latter half of the nineteenth century as photography flourished. Scrapbooks have been a common way of preserving not only photographs, but also newspaper clippings, pamphlets, documents, and other assorted items. Unfortunately, the impulse to save is frequently carried out with techniques and materials that are both detrimental and contrary to the collector's initial intention of long-term preservation.
Although every scrapbook is a unique collection arranged by the compiler, scrapbooks as a group exhibit some common characteristics. Album and scrapbook pages are almost universally made of poor-quality paper that deteriorates rapidly and may become stained and embrittled with time. The binding structure of albums is usually unable to adjust to the bulge caused by the materials the albums contain. Plastics used in modern photograph albums and scrapbooks are often unstable and, therefore, damaging. Items are frequently attached to the pages of scrapbooks and albums with harmful tapes or adhesives. Multi- paged letters or pamphlets may be fastened only by the last sheet; documents may be folded; and written notations may span the pages and the enclosed artifacts. Scrapbooks often contain a diversity of materials such as locks of hair, ribbons, badges, pressed flowers, and other three-dimensional objects. All of these features make scrapbooks and albums vulnerable to damage.
Scrapbooks frequently present diverse and complex preservation problems that require time-consuming and therefore costly attention. Decisions on how to approach the care of these items must take into consideration institutional collection policies and priorities, intrinsic worth, exhibit potential, and informational content. An institution's collection policy statement defines collection parameters and serves as a guideline for acquisitions. When deciding whether a scrapbook or album belongs in the collection, the collection policy should be reviewed. Scrapbooks should be acquired only if they strengthen the collection because of their aesthetic or artistic quality, their intellectual content, their unique character, or a combination of the three.
Once the decision has been made to add an album or scrapbook to the collection, standard accessioning procedures should be carried out. Information about the overall physical condition of the item and specific damage to it should be included in the record. The date and name of the individual making this evaluation should be noted. By evaluating the condition at the time of acquisition, proper disposition, storage, and treatment priorities can be established. Scrapbooks and albums already in a collection should also be evaluated or re-evaluated using the same criteria.
The disposition of scrapbooks is a curatorial decision influenced by preservation concerns. Decisions must be made about whether a scrapbook should be retained as is, be rearranged, or be distributed. Should it be made available in another format such as microfilm or photocopy, or should the original item be given to a researcher? Each scrapbook and its contents must be evaluated individually. In practice, many professionals lean toward keeping scrapbooks intact (with or without manuscript items) to retain their original integrity. If the scrapbook does not form a unified whole and its contents would be better integrated into existing institutional collections, the items in it should be dispersed as required. They should, however, be linked together intellectually with consecutive accession numbers that indicate their original source and also make it possible to identify related material in other locations.
Although museums, archives, and libraries cannot alter the inherent characteristics of scrapbooks without conservation treatment, they can extend their useful lives by controlling the environment in which they are kept and the manner in which they are stored and handled. Every institution should aspire to a temperature and humidity-controlled facility. Environmental control benefits the entire collection by substantially slowing the rate at which materials deteriorate. Conservation scientists have estimated (based on accelerated aging tests) that the useful life span of paper doubles for every 10°F drop in temperature. A temperature range from 65° to 70°F and a relative humidity of 45% with a daily flucuation of only +3% are acceptable for a wide variety of materials. These moderate conditions facilitate preservation, are reasonably economical, and provide a satisfactory environment for personnel and patrons. This range inhibits mold growth but does not encourage desiccation from an overly dry environment. Air circulation and filtration are also important elements in the control of the physical environment.
Scrapbooks and other archival materials must be protected from excessive exposure to both ultraviolet (UV) and visible light, while being stored, used, and exhibited. The most significant source of UV radiation is natural light. Fluorescent tubes also emit UV rays. Curtains, shades, or filters will greatly reduce light damage. Good housekeeping practices discourage pest infestation and establish the proper impression for visitors. Food and drink should never be permitted in storage, processing, exhibition, or reading areas.
All environmental conditions must be monitored on a regular schedule so adverse conditions can be discovered and corrected promptly.
The physical storage requirements of scrapbooks and albums vary, depending on their size and condition. Storing small and medium-sized volumes upright on open shelves next to volumes of similar size will discourage warping of covers and distortion of pages. If necessary, scrapbooks may be integrated with archival materials in document boxes or folders but they should be separated from direct contact with otherwise unprotected materials. Volumes in boxes should be stored spine down, adjacent to materials of similar size. Scrapbooks with weak covers or those with covers attached by strings looped through the pages should be tied together with unbleached linen or cotton tape. The bow knot should be positioned at the foredge to prevent interference while shelving or indentations on the cover caused by pressure. Better protection for scrapbooks and albums is provided by wrapping them with acid-free paper and storing them in a protective box. Acid-free or archival-quality paper and boxes can be purchased in standard sizes from archival supply houses or can be custom made. Wrapping or boxing scrapbooks also protects against deterioration caused by airborne pollutants, which are especially harmful to paper and photographic prints. Slipcases are not recommended for the storage of albums because they cause abrasion every time the album is slipped in and out of the case and because they expose spines to light and dust damage.
Oversize scrapbooks should be stored flat and fully supported on open shelves; if they are allowed to extend beyond the edge of the shelf, the books will become distorted. Flat storage for oversize volumes also provides better protection for artifacts that might be loosely attached to the pages. Map cases also provide acceptable storage for scrapbooks.
The reason to collect and preserve scrapbooks is to provide readers with access to their content. The best method for preventing damage from use is to limit use as much as possible. If the condition of the original volume permits reformatting, handling can be reduced by providing readers with a photocopy or microfilm. In choosing between these options several factors must be considered. These include the intended use of the copy and the size, format, and condition of the scrapbook and its content. If copies are intended to be archival, recognized guidelines and standards for preservation photocopying and preservation microfilming should be followed.
When handling scrapbooks carefully support the binding and the pages. Brittle pages can break, items can easily become detached or torn, and bindings can also break. When photocopying, avoid applying any force that could damage mounted items or the binding structure. It is always best to wear white cotton gloves while handling scrapbooks, especially if they contain photographic materials.
Although some scrapbook pages can be interleaved with archival-quality paper, most bindings will not accommodate the bulk added by protective sheets. If interleaving is required to protect the contents of a scrapbook, disbinding may be required. Loose sheets can then be boxed.
Some scrapbooks require repair and may warrant conservation treatment. Detached items can be separately enclosed in archival quality folders or envelopes or encapsulated and stored with the scrapbook. Although reattaching items may seem simple, it can be extremely detrimental to long-term preservation if inappropriate materials and methods are used. For best advice regarding even minor treatments, always consult a trained conservator. Any treatment should be carried out by a trained conservator. Treatment must be non-damaging, must not accelerate deterioration, and must be in keeping with the historical character of the artifact.
Some scrapbooks are temporary curiosities and should be considered expendable. Technical and financial concerns must be balanced against the value of a scrapbook for research or exhibition purposes or both. Proper storage and handling will extend its existence. The acquisition of scrapbooks and albums may be on the decline, but museums, historical societies, archives, and libraries have collected them in large numbers, and they will continue to be assembled. Institutions should develop collection policies that will rationalize acquisitions while at the same time provide adequate care for the artifacts entrusted to them.
These are not the only supply sources, but they take orders from individuals as well as institutions. Inclusion of these companies does not constitute an endorsement of all their products, but they have many that are appropriate for the activities outlined in this leaflet. For assistance in selecting specific supplies, consult a professional conservator.Light Impressions Corporation
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Paris, Jan. Choosing and Working with a Conservator. (Atlanta, Georgia: Southeastern Library Network, 1990).
Powers, Sandra. "Why Exhibit? The Risks Versus the Benefits," The American Archivist 43:3 (July 1978): 297-306.
Ritzenthaler, Mary Lynn. Preserving Archives and Manuscripts. Archival Fundamentals Series. (Chicago: Society of American Archivists, 1992).
Ritzenthaler, Mary Lynn, Gerald J. Munoff and Margery S. Long. Archives & Manuscripts: Administration of Photographic Collections. Basic Manual Series. (Chicago: Society of American Archivists, 1984).
Smith, Merrily A. "Scrapbooks in the Library of Congress," Preserving America's Performing Arts. (New York: Theatre Library Association, 1985).
Sung, Carolyn Hoover. Archives & Manuscripts: Reprography. Basic Manual Series. (Chicago: Society of American Archivists, 1982).
This leaflet has been issued by the National Cooperative Information Project, a cooperative of professionals with a commitment to preservation of cultural and information sources.
Originally written by Barbara Fleisher Zucker for the Congress of Illinois Historical Societies and Museums through funds provided by the National Museum Act administered by the Smithsonian Institution (June 1984).
Note: This file has been edited for use on computer networks. This editing required the removal of diacritics, underlining, and fonts such as italics and bold. You can obtain a copy of the original by writing to:National Preservation Program Office
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