12    Oct 20110 comments

On the Cheap: Five Tips to Preserve and Store Documents.

A paper-shaped nightmare.

It’s easy to forget about those precious documents littered around the home.

With the advent of digital data, many of us have become preoccupied with the preservation and backup of our trees and digital files. Of course, backing up this valuable data is an important consideration; but spare a thought for the birth certificates lurking in your damp conservatory or the "ancient" family photos slowly degrading in the attic.

These are the items that will be passed down regardless of software platform, waves of technology or- heaven forbid- a mass data loss on your system. Many speak of the “tangible experience” and nowadays it isn’t just luddites championing the cause.

We must take full responsibility of the documents entrusted to us or they risk an uncertain future; one where less fulfilling digital copies could be the sole record of their existence. In our recent poll, over 40% of respondents said that their precious documents were “in a box somewhere” – a little worrying considering how that very box could pose an acid-threat.

There are many firms and products out there that can help with preservation. The key problem is that the cost of protecting with industry standard materials can be expensive. The reality however, is that you can achieve the same results with a little ingenuity and some basic products.

Use cheap document safes (depending on the number of documents to protect)

A4 (US letter size) document safes can be picked up for around $50 (£30) and provide excellent protection. Many safes have a fire rating of about 30 minutes or more and prevent both moisture intrusion and direct sunlight damage. Cost effectiveness depends on how many documents or photos need to be stored. Tip: Use a safe for your most important items and cheaper alternatives for the rest. The insides are almost exclusively acid-free, too.

Acid-free paper is your friend

When you’re on a tight budget, prioritise the purchase of acid-free paper from a well-known online auction site- don’t pay more than $8 (£5) per metre though. You can also group together several items using the same sheet of paper, remember, the aim of the paper is to ensure that the items are free from both acid and lignin-rich products. Never use normal printer paper to store photos as discoloration can occur.

Create a perfect storage environment

Purchase a plastic storage box with a lid (any size needed) and ensure that the lid closes almost airtight. Use acid-free card to line the entire box (you can purchase acid-free tape, too). With the addition of some large silica gel packs (also available on a well-known auction website) separated from the documents using a final piece of acid-free card, you’ll have your very own protective environment that can deal with almost all conditions. Change the silica gel packs every six months to a year, depending on local humidity. Trust me, it’s much cheaper than buying acid-free boxes!

Binders are great but…

It’s important to store items properly within them. Ensure that you have a stiff piece of plastic covering the clip that grips the lever arch and holds the documents in place. Avoid physically hole punching documents by using acid-free polypropylene pockets.

For magazines and documents with a soft binding, it’s best to use booklet binder strips. These are essentially the strips on a document wallet with a slit instead of a pocket to hold A4 bindings at the middle pages, it’s also easy to make your own version of these using acid-free polyprop sheets. Always store binders flat to prevent straining of hole-punched documents or pockets.

It’s not just a question of what’s touching the documents, though.

Ensure that you find somewhere to store your documents that is:
- Dark
- Not susceptible to major temperature fluctuations
- Accessible in a house emergency
- Above-ground floor location (to avoid water damage and damp)

When you think carefully about the prospect of losing these items to time, a small investment now could make the world of difference.

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