Thursday, September 27, 2012

Expert Q&A :: Preserving your paper & photographic artefacts

For our Expert Q&A Thursday, September 27 we had Tania Riviere, Senior Conservator in Services and Exhibitions at the National Archives of Australia, and Cheryl Jackson, Conservator of Photographic Materials at the National Archives of Australia. Thanks again to Tania and Cheryl for giving us all the benefit of their experience. Please find the transcript of the Q&A and links below.

Don't forget our Expert Q&As happen every Thursday night on the Inside History Magazine facebook page.

When: NSW - ACT - VIC - TAS: 8:30-9:30pm AEDT | QLD: 7:30-8:30pm | WA: 5:30-6:30pm | NT: 7:00-8:00pm | SA: 8:00-9:00pm

Tania Riviere is the Senior Conservator of Services and Exhibitions at the National Archives of Australia and a qualified paper conservator. Cheryl Jackson is a Conservator of Photographic Materials at the National Archives of Australia and she has an interest in preventive conservation and conservation education.

Top tips for preserving family photos from Cheryl Jackson:
  1. Don't touch or write on the face of a print, inks and fingerprints can cause image material to deteriorate.  
  2. Don't apply sticky tape, even "preservation" tape. 
  3. Monitor your collection for mould and insect activity. 
  4. Use copy images for scrapbooking type projects. 
  5. Once you've spent lots of time digitizing your images, BACK UP YOUR WORK. Write your files to a disk or thumb drive and use these formats as a transport medium to another hard drive. Don't rely on disks or thumb drives as your only backup.
Top tips for preservation from Tania Riviere:
  1. My top tip would be packaging, make sure you have it. It doesn't need to be expensive. If all else fails, a styrofoam fruit packing box is sometimes all you need. Packaging ensures against dust, light and any potential disasters from water leaks, etc. 
  2. Remember to check on your records a few times a year, especially if they show evidence of past mould attack. 
  3. And lastly, if you have to force something open or closed, then don't, it will inevitably lead to disaster.  

Summary of links from the Q&A:

Cheryl Jackson's column in Issue 12 of Inside History 


Transcript of Expert Q&A - Preserving your paper & photographic artefacts with NAA:

Comment: IHM: Welcome everyone, thanks for joining us tonight. The rules are simple. Try to keep your questions concise and focused on the preservation of photographic and paper materials, that will help Cheryl and Tania to answer as many as possible in the hour that we have.
Q&A tip :: Keep refreshing your browser to see the answers and questions as they appear.

Q. From Geoff: Things like this - keep them folded or flatten them? Folded for 100 years, mind. Other examples in my fb album.
A. Deb: I'd store flat items in acid-free mylar or polyethylene sleeves; could back them with acid-free cardboard for extra support. Then scan them once, high resolution, good scanner, no settings like "sharpening" or any color-correction activated, save as TIFF - scan front & back. Store photos & ephemera in a cool, dark area, or inside acid-free containers or folders. We have our family Bible in an acid-free box.
Q (b): From Geoff: Thanks, Deb. And WW1 postcards still bound in books? Are the original 'tissue' paper interleaves likely to be 'safe' for long term storage? Or should I add something else? They've done their job quite well since 1918, I must say.
A. Chez: I don't think they make a big enough acid free box for the bible, any other suggestions?
A. Tania: Hi Geoff, thanks for your question. Deb has answered it pretty well. If the paper items are happy to lie flat ie: you don't have to force the creases, then yes, store them flat within some sort of protective pacakging. For things that at A4 to foolscap size (and smaller) in my experience you can't go past a view book - the type school kids use for assignments. These can be purchased from a supermarket or stationary store quite cheaply. Slip a piece of archival copy paper in the sleeve and your item should sit on top of that. The paper provides a level of rigidity to the item, and the plastic sleeve takes all the pressure from handling. You can photocopy through the plastic as well. Look for viewbooks that are labeled 'copy safe', Marbig is a good brand as well.
A. Tania: The viewbooks are nice as they can hold a number of items within the one book, and are very easy to store. Plus you can add information about the items, by slipping typed notes etc into adjacent sleeves.
Q (c): From Geoff: Thanks Tania. Figured it would be like that. Any thoughts on neutralising residual acid in the original paper?
A. Tania: Geoff, you could think about buying buffered paper to slip behind the original item. This will counteract the acidic nature of some papers. Just be aware, buffered paper should not be used for photographic prints.
A. Geoff: Thanks, Tanya. There are a few items that are heavily foxed that might need the extra attention.

Q. From Chez: I have 3 preservation issues... 1. Preserving WW1 photographic postcards from Europe 2. Old big gilt edged colour illustrated family bible 3. Old photos mounted on cardboard like mounts, from photographers.
A. Geoff: Chez, saved me asking. I have 1 & 3 to deal with. Cardboard becoming very soft and crumbly.
A. Deb: I'd store flat items in acid-free mylar or polyethylene sleeves; could back them with acid-free cardboard for extra support. Then scan them once, high resolution, good scanner, no settings like "sharpening" or any color-correction activated, save as TIFF - scan front & back. Store photos & ephemera in a cool, dark area, or inside acid-free containers or folders. We have our family Bible in an acid-free box.
Q (b): From Chez: I don't think they make a big enough acid free box for the bible, any other suggestions?
A. Cheryl: Hi Chez, for your WWI postcards, they may be true photographs or they may be ink prints of photographic images. Either way, their preservation is much the same - neutral pH paper sleeves, or polyester or polyethylene sleeves if you are handling and referring to them a lot. Paper sleeves are better if you live in a humid climate. Handle them by the edges to avoid getting fingerprints on the image area. You can store them upright like index cards as long as you pad the box out so the photos don't slump or slide around. Digitize them by all means, to share their content.
A. Cheryl: Point 3 for Chez and Geoff, too - mounted photos can also be stored in archival plastic sleeves, or neutral pH paper. A slightly larger piece of card inserted into the sleeve behind the mount can support the mount and provide a handling margin.
A. Cheryl: As for the gilt edge bible, if you can buy an archival box that fits it nicely, that's great, or you can wrap it a large sheet of archival paper. Store it flat so that the spine doesn't have to support the heavy text block, as the animal glue that will probably have been used on the spine will be getting brittle and weak with age.

Q. From Lyn: I have my grandparents original 1922 marriage certificate that has been sticky-taped and folded for many years. I have opened it out, placed it in an acid free sleeve and presently it resides in a photo album. Is this the correct way to store it and if it were possible, should I even try to remove the sticky tape?
A. Tania: Hi Lyn, sticky tape can be a real problem. Removing the tape really depends on what stage of deterioration the tape is in. You dont want to 'force' the plastic carrier off, if the residual adhesive is still quite tacky. This can result in a possible tear, and will leave you with a sticky mess that is quite difficult to deal with. However, if the adhesive is dry and dessicated, the plastic carrier will want to fall away from the paper support, and this should be ok. So in short, if you have to force it, leave it alone. What kind of album is it in? Is it adhered in with photo corners? If it lies flat, and is protected (without seeing it) I am likely to suggest to leave it where it is.
A. Lyn: Thank you Tania. The sleeve is just placed loosely in the photo album, not attached in any way. I really was just hoping to compress the certificate as the paper had distorted over the years so that does not not lie flat. The sticky tape has left a yellowed deposit along the fold lines that seems to be getting darker over the years. The whole thing is very brittle so I am guessing that leaving as is will be the best solution. I had hoped to have it framed but maybe not.
A. Tania: Lyn, don't give up hope of framing it. By the sounds of it, I think you might need to take it to a conservator and have them have a look at it.

Q. From Sharon: I have my ggg grandfather's medical certificates and dating from the 1840s rolled up in a metal cylinder. I took them out last year and they seem in reasonable condition. The larger ones are a bit tattered around the edges. Good quality paper and some appear to be vellum. Should I take them out? Store them flat? There are at least 30 of them. Any advice gratefully received.
A. Tania: 
Hi Sharon, rolled up items in metal tubes, I would tend to take them out and store them flat, plus that way you can view and handle them a little easier . However, it does depend on how strong the curl memory is. Again, you dont want to have to force anything to lie flat, especially if you think some of them might be velum. The concern with keeping them in the rolled metal container (again without seeing the items in question) is that each time you want to take them out to view them you run the risk of damaging them by rubbing them against the tube/opening. Depending on their size, you could also use a viewbook like suggested to Geoff, or it they are bigger, a box big enough for them to lie flat, interleaved with archival tissue/paper, which will provide a barrier, and a support to add (in pencil) a title or information about the sheet below. Does this cover everything for you? Let me know.

Q. From Fiona: I have inherited a stack of negatives in the old style that is the size of the photo (not sure of the proper name!). They have not been stored very well (mostly in old biscuit tins) - how should I preserve them for the future? Is there an inexpensive way to copy them so I can keep them in digital format?
A. Cheryl: Fiona - these negatives that are about photo size are medium or large format still camera negs. They may be cellulose acetate, cellulose nitrate, or polyester depending on their age. If they are earlier than the 1940's they are probably nitrate; 1940's to 1960's they could be one of a few types of cellulose acetate, or they could be modern polyester negs. Nitrate and acetate negs need to ne copied as they will inevitably deteriorate. Handle them very carefully, by the edges and scan them on a flatbed scanner suitable for negative and transparency material, or photograph them on a light box with a good camera. Once you've digitized them, house them in photo-safe paper sleeves. Photos require a higher level of quality than just "acid-free". Store them in a cool, dry place, away from the rest of your collection as once they start to deteriorate, they will cause other material to deteriorate faster.
A. Cheryl: A bit of a note about storage enclosures for photos..."acid-free" isn't enough for photos. Papers and plastics for photographic material need to be more pure so that they don't contain chemicals that will discolour the image material, embrittle the emulsion layer or stain the paper support. Ask for paper that has passed the Photographic Activity Test, or PAT.
A. Geoff: Ah ... that's one of my other questions answered. Some of the better photographic stores have 620 sized sleeves for negatives, usually 4 to a page, set up for ring binders. (I need to get some more - note to self.)
A. Cheryl: The National Archives website has Factsheets available which deal with the preservation of lots of different archival materials. Go to then Records Management, then Preserve, then Preserving Physical Records.
A. IHM: Here's the link to the fact sheets highlighted by Cheryl ::

Q. From Helen: A question about old letters where we have transcribed obscure old hand-writing and typed readable versions: is it safe to include the transcription in the same archival envelope / plastic sleeve? My concern is that the ink or toner of the printed transcription could contaminate the original.
A. Cheryl: Helen, if you place the original and the transcript back to back in a plastic sleeve with a piece of archival paper between the two, everything should be OK. I would suggest the transcriptions be photocopies rather than inkjet printouts, as photocopies are more stable.
A. Prue: You gals are being kept busy! Good work so far
A. Caroline: Enjoying your skilled comments Cheryl and Tania xc
Q (b): From Helen: Thanks Cheryl. Another question: some photographs printed commercially (as opposed to printing them ourselves) have a strong smell, especially when stored in archival sleeves, and the smell seems to increase over time. Are the chemicals used in the printing process deteriorating? And are those photos likely to cause a problem to others stored in the same box or album?
A. Cheryl: Helen, it is possible that the smell is residual processing chemicals. With fully automated processing now, some of the wash/clearing baths may not be long enough. I would suggest storing them separately from you other photos, just in case. Store them in a ventilated space so that whatever is being released from them doesn't build up inside the container and accelerate any deterioration. Do you have the negatives? Could you get them reprinted if you start to notice staining or dye fade occurring?
A. Helen: Thanks. Unfortunately the ones I am concerned about are part of our local history group's collection, and have been copied from originals lent years ago - maybe not even still in existence. We can keep them separate. And I am gradually digitising the collection, so can make other copies.
A. IHM: Which local history group is that, Helen?
A. Helen: Peachester History Committee, Sunshine Coast hinterland, Qld

Q. From Fiona: What is the best way to store old family papers that have already deteriorated somewhat with mildew?
A. Tania: Hi Fiona, I am sure you have already noticed how mildew can weaken paper, make it soft and prone to increased levels of damage through handling. My first comment is to make sure you are looking after your own health and safety first. Mould and mildew is not good for the respitory system. It your items have not been too badly affected ie: they still maintain some strength within the structure, I would suggest, on a nice warm day, take them outside, with a new, clean, soft make up brush, and a dust mask that you can buy from the supermarket, and very gently brush over the items, to lift away any surface mildew/mould that might be present. You will never remove all of the mildew, but as long as you store them in an area in the house which is free from wild flucuations in temp and humidity, you should be ok. I would also advise having them copied either digitally or photocopied. I would avoid storing them in plastic, interleaved between sheets of paper/tissue would be advisable. You want to avoid any possible moisture build up.

Q. IHM: Cheryl - What do you have in the pipeline that we should be excited about?
A. Cheryl: Ahh, lucky me! I've been given the opportunity to conduct research in photographic conservation, then deliver my findings to an international conference of conservators in NZ next year. I will be looking into a more efficient way for conservators to undo the double sided mounting tissue that studios used to adhere their prints to their mountboards. Photos and their boards don't often need to be separated from each other, but when they do, it can be extremely difficult and time consuming. I'm hoping to develop a faster, easier method that could also be applied to those thousands of modern photos permanently stuck into self adhesive albums.

Q. IHM: Wow, where's the hour gone! We have to work out a way to preserve time ;) Final question from me: Tania & Cheryl, favourite story you’ve found in the NAA collection?
A. Cheryl: My favourite item/story is from one of our very early copyright series. The item is a 10 foot 6 inch long albumen panorama. There are several of them, but this monster is my favourite. They were produced by Bernard Holtermann after he made his fortune on the Hill End gold fields. He commissioned two photographers to travel the gold fields and the cities and towns of NSW and Victoria and photograph them on huge glass plate negatives. The negatives were printed up and Holtermann traveled an exhibition of them to the USA and Europe to advertise what a wonderful "Land of Opportunity" Australia was. They are wonderful images taken as a result of a "happily-ever-after" story.
A. IHM: What a great story Cheryl, we love the Holtermann collection as well ::
A. Tania: My favorite item belongs to the personal records collection of Robert Charles Given Coulter. Coulter was the governement surveyor that provided the landscape drawings of the Canberra region to be included in the kits that went out to the competion to design the federal captial. Coulter, along with Caswell and Griffiths also had a entry in the competition, and being the only Austalian team, ranked fourth as an honourable mention. The item dear to my heart is a hand made and bound book of Coulter's called 'Sea Ballads'. It is totally constructed by Coulter, the poems, the artwork works, as well as the bound volume and the spine. It is quite crude in some respects, but showed his ability to create the words, the vision and the vessel to contain it all in. Most of Coulter's artworks are available on the NAA database through digital images - just type in Coulter into the name search function and they will come up.
Comment: IHM: Thanks again to Cheryl and Tania for joining us tonight, I’m sure you’ve found it very useful. I know we have. If you have other questions you’d like to ask you can use National Archives of Australia's contact form here: or call the NAA on 1300 886 881. We’ll publish the questions, answers and links from tonight’s session in a blog post this coming week. Stay tuned for our regular column from the NAA team in our upcoming Issue 13: Nov-Dec 2012 edition!
A. Geoff: I've discovered that QLD State Library shop sells buffering paper. Thanks for your help.

Follow up question from Fiona, 28 September: Thanks to all involved in the Q & A session last night, especially for answering my couple of questions I submitted earlier. Sounds like I have a lot of work to do. One other question that maybe someone could answer for me - does anyone have a recommendation for a flatbed scanner suitable for negatives and transparencies?
A. IHM: Hi Fiona, Gilbert Herrada from the National Archives of Australia recommended the Epsom Perfection V700 in Cheryl's Issue 12 column ::
A. Fiona: Thank you. I will check it out

Follow up question from Fiona, 2 October: Hi IHM. I have another question following on from the Q & A last week. The flatbed scanner that was recommended - what format does a scanned negative take on? Does it become a photograph in digital format or does it remain a negative in digital format? I have been doing some research on the Epson, but I realised that I don't know what the end result of the scanning would be! Are you able to help?
A. IHM: It does convert to usable digital formats like JPEG and TIFF. Here's a useful Youtube vid on the Epsom Perfection V700:

Next Week: Who's joining us for next Thursday's Expert Q&A? Janis Wilton and Bill Oates from University of New England answering questions on studying Local, Family and Applied History and doing research at University of New England, Armidale.

When: NSW-ACT-VIC-TAS: 8:30-9:30pm AEDT | QLD: 7:30-8:30pm | WA: 5:30-6:30pm | NT: 7:00-8:00pm | SA: 8:00-9:00pm.

Janis Wilton coordinates the local, family and applied history courses at the University of New England and is a community historian with a passion for oral history. Bill Oates is the University Archivist at the Heritage Centre and Archives, University of New England.


Read the previous Expert Q&A transcripts:
[1]  Thursday, July 26 :: How to get the best from Trove Australia
[2]  Thursday, August 16 :: How to get the best from BDM Certificates
[3]  Thursday, August 23 :: Getting the most from NAA
[4]  Thursday, August 30 :: Interpreting photographs for family history
[5]  Thursday, September 6 :: How to get the best from
[6]  Thursday, September 13 :: Using Trove for research
[7]  Thursday, September 20 :: Today's toolkit for the digital historian
[8]  Thursday, September 27 :: Preserving your artefacts with NAA
[9]  Thursday, October 4 :: Studying and doing research at UNE

[10] Thursday, October 11 :: How to research war graves and Anzac ancestors
[11] Thursday, October 25 :: What's new at
[12] Thursday, November 1 :: How to research cemeteries in Sydney & NSW
[13] Thursday, Nov 8 :: Australian War Memorial - Lost Diggers
[14] Thursday, Nov 15 :: Getting even more from Trove
[15] Thursday, Nov 22 :: Getting the most from findmypast AU & NZ
[16] Thursday, Nov 29 :: Using NAA defence records
[19] Thursday, Dec 20 :: What's new at


Image from the Q&A session: 


  1. Fantastic tips you have here! Thanks much for sharing all the effective suggestions to preserve paper and other photographic artifacts.

  2. Hi Inside History magazine,
    I loved reading this piece! Well written!

    Merlen Hogg