Care and Handling | Archives and Special Collections

Care and Handling - Archives and Special Collections

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Care and Handling

Care and Handling

Care and handling of photographic materials should not be overlooked. Photographic prints and negatives need to be cared for appropriately if they’re going to last. The best protection is to house them in photo-safe materials (plastic or paper envelopes, sleeves and boxes) and then store them in a cool, dark, and dry environment.  

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Examples of different types of enclosures for photographic negatives. The sleeves in the front are archival enclosures as the plastic was not manufactured using damaging chemicals known as PVCs. Dave Brown photo.

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Examples of sleeves or enclosures that should be avoided as the plastic is not archival. The yellowing and discoloration has been caused by acids released as the plastic degrades. Dave Brown photo.

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The discoloured page of a magnetic photo album. Magnetic albums use acidic glues that damage photos. Dave Brown photo.

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If glassine sleeves, right, get wet, they can adhere to negatives The plastic archival sleeves are a better choice for long-term storage. Dave Brown photo.

Archival Enclosures 

Storage enclosures come in many different typessizes and shapes. Boxes, albums, sleeves and envelopes can all be used to protect photos and negatives. Enclosures made of “acid-free” paper and stable plastics like polypropylene or polyethylene are ideal for storage Avoid using acidic cardboard, vinyl enclosures and “sticky-back” photo albums that can harm or ruin photos and negatives. Not all materials are preservation quality even if they’re sold as “acid-free. Look for archival enclosures that do not contain lignin or additives and are pH neutral and chemically inert. While archival storage materials may cost more, they’re more reliable. 

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Examples of different types of enclosures for photographic negatives. The sleeves in the front are archival enclosures as the plastic was not manufactured using damaging chemicals known as PVCs. Dave Brown photo.

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Examples of vinyl print and negative sleeves to avoid. Vinyl enclosures should be avoided as vinyl is unstable and can ruin prints and negatives as it degrades. Dave Brown photo.

Storage Conditions  

Choosing the right storage location in your home is like adding another layer of protection. It is convenient to store photos in basements or attics, but basements are often damp and prone to floodingwhile attics tend to be too hot and dry. Once your photographs are in the correct enclosures, the best place to store them in your home is in the darkness of a main-floor closet where the indoor climate is more stable 

Learn more

Government of Canada: Caring for Photographic Materials

American Library Association: Preserving photographs

Library of Congress: Care, Handling and Storage of Photographs