Scrapbooks have been popular keepers of memories for generations. They can open windows on previous years modes of fashion, events, recipes, games, tourist attractions, and much, much more. They contain photographs, drawings, newspaper clippings, pressed flowers, scraps of material, bits of poetry, dance cards, wedding invitations, menus, and postcards. Due to the varied contents, scrapbooks can be very difficult to preserve. This also is true because of the relatively poor quality of the scrapbooks themselves: they often have very acidic pages and inferior binding structures.
As with any paper based product, scrapbooks can be effected by temperature and humidity. Fluctuations in temperature and humidity can cause the binding, the paper and all the various types of enclosures to swell and contract. They will do so at different rates, which will cause warping in the structure of the scrapbook. Hot, moist air encourages mold growth. The acids and lignin chemicals in the paper will work even faster in warm temperatures, speeding up the decay of the book. Some scrapbooks have leather covers, which are extremely acidic. They can be severely damaged by the environment, and also by pollution. Sulfuric acid, formed when sulfur dioxide (pollution) mixes with water (humidity), is the leading cause of red rot in leather books. Leather book covers are also very attractive to mold spores.
Ventilation can be quite helpful in hot, humid conditions, providing a cooling effect and inhibiting mold growth. It is a good idea to facilitate air flow in the library area of your house, and filter the air as well, by using a high efficiency filter like a HEPA. HEPA filters can take pollutants, mold, and dust out of the air, and are available at local hardware and department stores.
Because attics are very hot in the summer and very cold in the winter, they are poor storage areas for scrapbooks. They also can have leaks that start up without anyone knowing about them. Basements are poor storage areas for scrapbooks, as they tend to be damp and moldy. Other rooms that are poor storage areas are those that contain a washer and dryer or machinery that gives off heat. Storing scrapbooks above air conditioning units or heat vents can lead to severe temperature and humidity changes. Cool and dry conditions are the best for scrapbooks, slowing the acid reactions, and discouraging mold growth. The optimal temperature for paper is 65° Fahrenheit with a relative humidity of 40%. Although there are other items than paper in most scrapbooks, this temperature and humidity is a good rule of thumb for many different types of material.
Silk ribbons and a metal safety pin are stored best at cool temperatures and low humidity.
Light can also damage scrapbooks. Ultraviolet light does the most damage, but visible light can also do harm. Light fades inks and bindings and can discolor paper. It is best to store scrapbooks in a dark area or inside a box.
Keep food and drink away from scrapbooks; crumbs and sticky spots attract bugs to paper. Cockroaches and silverfish enjoy munching on paper and will happily make holes in whatever they can find in your book. Food and drink can also stain books permanently.
Many scrapbooks are oversized and heavy and are best stored flat. If that is not an option, they can also be stored with the spine down, as long as there is something holding the covers upright and closed.
Shelving made from coated metal or coated wood is preferable to green or uncoated wood. Wood contains acids and can emit gasses that are harmful to books and papers. These can affect items stored directly upon uncoated wooden shelves. Coating can be several layers of lacquer, as long as it is dried and cured completely before placing anything on it. Another option is to line the shelves with glass, Plexiglas or polyester material. Placing a scrapbook inside an acid free/lignin free/pH neutral box will also protect it from the affects of untreated wooden shelves.
Many scrapbooks suffer from acid migration. The acids from the pages on the left side of the book stain their facing pages on the right, and vice verse. Placing a sheet of acid-free tissue between the leaves of a scrap book can alleviate this problem. As many scrapbooks have colored items enclosed in them, acid-free tissue rather than buffered tissue should be used. Buffered tissue can affect the inks and dyes of many colored items.
This scrapbook has pages that are more acidic than the items glued into it. The "reverse shadow" on the right hand page is caused by the acids in the scrapbook page being absorbed by the less acidic invitation and party favor on the left hand page.
There is also some discoloration on the invitation (left) from the orange coupon (right).
Due to the color of the enclosures, unbuffered, acid-free tissue is best for interleaving.
Unfortunately, many scrapbooks are already so filled with enclosures that their spines are breaking and their covers are tearing away from the book. In this case, interleaving with acid-free tissue may add strain to the already overstuffed volume. Interleaving only between the worst of the pages is one option. Another, much more drastic solution for overstuffed books and high levels of acid migration is to disbind the book and store each page in an acid free folder in an acid free box.
Disbinding a scrapbook and storing it in acid free folders and acid free boxes can lengthen the life of the individual pages and the items that are attached to them, but it risks destroying the provenance or the meaning of the layout of the book. For instance, a book might have items on facing pages that relate to each other in a manner that will be confusing if the pages are split up and put into separate folders. Another option would be to disbind the scrapbook, place each page in a polyester sleeve, then place them all in order in a modern album. Unfortunately, this would deter opening any folded items attached to the pages.
In most instances, leaving the scrapbook alone and storing it in an acid free box will be the best solution. Scrapbooks can be best protected from changes in temperature and humidity and the harmful effects of ultraviolet light when boxed. Boxing also helps to keep together any enclosures that are trying to fall out of the book. As many enclosures in scrapbooks can extend beyond the pages of the book (as in folded newspapers or other items originally larger than the book), boxes can help to protect these from being damaged by neighboring items or being brushed against while stored on a shelf. Boxes that are acid free and buffered can be found at archival supply stores.
For more information on preservation questions and on where to purchase acid free boxes, acid free folders, polyester sleeves, and archival albums, please see Conservation OnLine at http://palimpsest.stanford.edu/bytopic/suppliers/
Because many scrapbooks are large and heavy and contain items which might be coming loose from the base pages, always be careful when picking up a scrapbook. Keep it level while it is being carried to a table large enough and clear enough to accommodate it while it is open.
It is a good idea to wash your hands thoroughly before opening old scrapbooks, as the oils from your hands can damage photographs, old papers, colored inserts, and the like. It is also a good idea to have a heavy piece of cardstock, like a playing card or index card, on hand to help turn pages. Some pages are so brittle that fingertips can tear them. Insert the card under the corner of the page, and using as much of the card as you can, use it to help lift the page. Be aware, however, that the card can catch on items glued to the reverse side of the page.
Many scrapbooks have enclosures taped into them with pressure sensitive tapes such as magic tape or masking tape which have acidic adhesives. They will turn yellow, and will turn the paper yellow as well, before falling off and leaving behind a sticky residue. Unfortunately, this also allows the item that was taped to fall out. It is very tempting to merely replace the old piece of tape with a new one. There are few alternatives to this other than using archival quality tapes available at art supply or scrapbook stores. Look for the document repair tapes that are both acid free and have an acrylic based adhesive. Many of these may also have passed the Photo Activity Test. This means they are safe to use with photographs, but they will also be better to use with your scrapbook. When applying the tape, also keep in mind that the less tape used, the better. Use only as much tape as is needed to keep the item in place. Acid free glues are also available and can be effective when used in moderation.
Another method of reattaching an item to a page is to enclose it in an acid free envelope or a polyester sleeve, and then attach that to the page. For more information on creating polyester sleeves or encapsulating, see the page on Encapsulation.
For information on how to make your own scrapbook, see Making Archival Scrapbooks.