Preserving Photos and Newspaper Clippings

Dear Donia,

What's the best approach to preserving old photos and newspaper clippings?


Q. Dear Donia,

I am a volunteer at my local public library assisting with the preservation of articles and photographs through copying and arranging the copies of the photographs and articles pertaining to the history of the St. Paul (MN) Winter Carnival. There are about (a minimum) of 10 years worth of photographs and newspaper articles that I have been handling but I have been finding that some of the photographs are in terrible condition (one photograph is of a curling team & one of the team members has been completely cut out—well, he's missing his head & I don't know how to approach this subject with my supervisor). I have to assume that she received the photo in this poor condition (even though the oldest materials I worked on go back to 1917 & the most recent is 1948).

I also wondered if there are other ways of preserving newspaper articles other than the whole process of first making a copy before digitizing them to the Web. This has, indeed, been a challenge for me, since my father was an "amateur historian" (he was a lot neater when it came to clipping articles from the newspaper before having them laminated than whoever was clipping the newspaper articles for this public library) and I know how meticulous he was about the way he clipped his articles about the history of Youngstown, OH and then clipped the title of the newspaper. Among many reasons, this is a big reason why this project (there will be 3 books once I finish copying what I was given). Thank you, Jeannine

A. Dear Jeannine,

As a native Minnesotan, I must say what a fun and wonderful project to be volunteering on! I have always loved the Winter Carnival and am glad that someone is saving its history. Unfortunately, we often do not receive materials in the best of condition so what we do is try to prevent it getting worse. We do this through proper storage. For photographs, we can get polyester sleeves which will help protect the photograph in storage as well as allow for safe viewing. The sleeves will also work for any documents that may be in the collection.

As for the newspaper clippings, I can understand your frustration! Not only is it difficult to work with clippings with little or no reference to date or publication, their chemically unstable nature causes problems for preservation. If the institution wants to keep these clippings in paper format, I would continue to photocopy. The copy paper will be more stable, especially if a bond paper is used. Scanning is by far and the better way to save these as long as there is a good backup system for the scanned images. I also encourage scanning from the original clipping first and then copying. If you scan from a copy, you are not getting the best image since you will have lost resolution in the creating of the photocopy.

I hope this helps with your concerns. If any more come up during this project, please don't hesitate to contact Dear Donia again!