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Sunday, February 28, 2010

Preserving Newspapers from Mavis W.

Q. I like to save newspapers which feature special events or people of interest.  Do you know what would be the best kind of container to preserve these for as long as possible and whether such a container might be the size of a newspaper?  Do you know whether Rubbermaid containers are made of a material which would not harm newspapers if used for long term storage?

A. Newspaper pulp is very acidic and so ages rather rapidly.  Light accelerates this process.  As far as storage goes, there's a wide range of what is possible, depending upon how special the paper is to you.
I recommend Rubbermaid® or Sterilite® (or similar containers with the recycling code '5' or 'PP').  The material is polypropylene and is completely inert and thus ideally suited for safely storing all manner of things.  We have a letter on file from Rubbermaid™ attesting to the absolute safety of all of their products for storage. Do not make the boxes airtight and store them in a dark, temperate area of your home. Check periodically to be sure all is well. A shelf on an interior closet is an ideal location (to avoid temperature and humidity swings) or under a bed in an unused (but climate-controlled) bedroom, with a dust skirt to block light.

Polypropylene boxes are used extensively for conservation.  They are in my opinion, superior to expensive archival board boxes, as they offer greater protection from water damage (burst pipe, leaking roof, weather disaster) and greater resistance to pests.  They also stack easily.

The underbed boxes serve very well for newspapers, as they have enough room for either 2 stacks of folded papers or 1 of unfolded. 

What further methods you use should be determined by how precious the papers are to you.  You may store whole papers still folded (not the most valuable to you) and wrapped in nonbuffered archival tissue. The tissue acts both as protection against environmental acids and as a moisture buffer.  It also further shields the papers from light.  Do not use buffered tissue, as most colored inks used by newspapers today are soy-based.  The chemical buffering agent can interact with some of these dyes and alter the colors.

If the articles are very special to you, then you should store them flat or as individual sheets or articles.  Line the box with tissue and then place a sheet of tissue between each as they go in, finishing with a final layer of tissue.

Newspaper is going to yellow and become brittle eventually, so if the articles are historically or personally very significant, you'll want to go a bit further.  First, copy the article onto white ink-jet paper.  Almost all are acid-free, but look for 'archival' on the label to be sure there are also no lignins present or finishes of any kind.  Store the copies separately and you will have a record if the originals decay too much or are in some other way damaged or lost. If you have a scanner, also save a scan of the original(s).

For items that are already significantly decayed or very fragile when you copy them, you can try this trick to stabilize the original (after copying and/or scanning):

Stir 2 TBSP of Milk of Magnesia into a bottle of seltzer, club soda or distilled water, seltzer or club soda. Allow to sit until thoroghly blended. Pour some of the solution in a glass baking pan. Place the article on a sheet of plain white paper (see above) and gently lower into the solution.  After a few minutes, use the underlying paper to gently lift the newsprint out of the solution.  Allow to air dry and when thoroughly dry, sandwich between 2 fresh sheets of paper and press under a heavy volume for a few hours. You can also dry the item by placing it carefully between 2 thick layers of white paper towels and weighting. The alkaline solution will neutralize the acids in the paper.  This method may also be used to stabilize new articles, which is especially useful when scrapbooking.  Be sure to have a back-up copy of the article, especially if it has any color, as the alkalinity may change the colors as noted above.
Archival sleeves of the type used in scrapbooks may also be used for individual articles.