You or someone in your family may have documents and photographs that hold the history of your family. Often times, people are worried that this information could be lost or damaged and want to know how to preserve this history for future generations. To begin to answer how you can save your cherished treasures, we’ve put together some steps you can take to preserve these important items.

This post will explore Handling and Preservation, and our next post will cover Metadata and Digitization. Each of these topics can always be more deeply explored, and we will refer you to sources where you will be able to find more information. These posts will give general recommendations about: handling, digitization, preservation, formatting, and digital preservation for personal collections.

Librarian Joan Whitney with damaged books, 1983


Before you start: Handling Tips

  • Have a clear space to work and avoid drinking and eating while handling items
  • Wash your hands, do not apply lotions because they can stain paper or photographs
  • When handling photographs, take care to not put your finger on the photo, leaving a fingerprint mark. If you prefer, you can use gloves
  • Avoid folding the material
  • If possible, remove any materials that degrade over time, such as: metal paper clips, rubber bands, and tape

For more information on handling, this Frequently Asked Questions from the Library of Congress may be helpful.

If you did want to digitize your items and create metadata for them, it would be good to do so between the handling and preserving stages. If you do not want to create a digital copy of your material, you can proceed with the preservation. Otherwise, we recommend that you read our post on Metadata and Digitization.



If you want to eventually display the materials, consider scanning the items and printing copies so that you can display the copies and keep the original in a safe environment. Any kind of light can alter the original and cause degradation, such as causing the colours to fade.

Keep the originals:

  • Away from light (minimal exposure, the less the better!), water and any potential sources of water (pipes, windows), and food. This will avoid the proliferation of mold and help prevent insects and rodents from causing damage.
  • Stored on a shelf in a room with controlled humidity (between 20-65%) and temperature (cold room). This way, you can avoid problems with potential floods or insect activity and you will slow the deterioration of the material. If not possible, at least avoid keeping the materials on the floor in a damp basement, garage or hot attic.
  • Inside proper containers, made of lignin-free and acid-free materials. One option is to use acid-free envelopes or sleeves made of polyester, polypropylene or polyethylene.

When storing documents, do not over or under stuff the box, as both will cause materials to bend or fold. If you do not have enough items for a box, use extra paper to prevent items from flopping over or moving around inside due to excess of space.

If you have photos and want to store them in albums: use the ones that have stable plastic envelopes made of polyester, polypropylene or polyethylene; a binding like spiral, ring binders, post or clamp binding, or even sewn binding; and a cover made of stable plastic, leather or cloth. Another option is to use corners made of acid-free paper or stable plastic to hold the photos into the paper.


Be careful when handling improperly stored materials

Mold can be dangerous to your health, so avoid contact with materials that contain mold. Try to move the items to a room with less humidity in order to slow the mold growth. Depending on the value of the material, look for a conservator who can clean the items for you.

If your material is infested with insects, get in touch with a conservator. If you prefer, you can try to put the materials inside a plastic bag (Ziploc type) and leave them in your freezer for a few days to kill the insects. Note that the freezer’s humidity can cause deterioration if the items are not completely sealed.

More information



Care, handling, and storage of photographs (Library of Congress)

Tips for handling family papers and photographs (National Archives)

We often write about collections that have already been digitized, but today we want to give you a sneak peek of a forthcoming collection that we’re working on right now.

The BC Historical Documents are a variety of papers, correspondence and text that have been identified as being representative of the documentary history of early British Columbia. These documents highlight the growth and development of BC over time, and feature some key figures in our social and political history. This collection is made up primarily of personal papers, letters, photos and ledger books, as well as a number of educational records such as curriculums and class lists.


Two graduate students from UBC’s School of Library & Archival Studies are working on digitizing these records and adding metadata to them. Through this work, both have had the opportunity to interact with rare and interesting materials, including police reports, yearbooks and personal letters. In one instance, a set of yearbooks from the Provincial Normal School shows the direct impact of World War I, with the 1914/1915 graduating class being half the size of the previous year, and the 1915/1916 yearbook documenting former students who had gone to war, as well as those that had passed away.

A number of correspondence from noted politician and 12th premier of BC, Charles Semlin, demonstrate the complex balance between private and public life that political figures often must negotiate. In Semlin’s case, he was known as a conservative politician interested in curbing immigration from Asia and implementing wide-ranging reforms. Despite his divisive political leanings, however, Semlin was a source of financial support for numerous friends and acquaintances throughout his life, a fact well documented in his correspondences.

Across these historical documents, it is possible to gain greater perspective and appreciation for the many components which have contributed to the building of our province, and the variety of stories that make this place unique.

Stay tuned for more information about the Early BC Historical Documents collection!

The Architizer blog covers UBC Library's highly specialized PARC facility, built by DGBK Architects.
Disaster Print, 1854, from the Japanese Maps of the Tokugawa Era Collection.

Disaster Print, 1854, from the Japanese Maps of the Tokugawa Era Collection.


The latest issue of LibFOCUS celebrates the Library’s connections to the community, including the launch of the annual Community Report and a listing of Asian Heritage Month activities. Highlights include Preservation Week’s personal histories, a new exhibition of illustrated historical menus, a screening of the documentary Passage of Dreams: the Chung Collection and more.

Anne Lama, UBC Library’s Conservator (left) and Chelsea Shriver, Student Librarian, prepare for a book exhibition at Rare Books and Special Collections.
Credit: Martin Dee


Anne Lama may be a Conservator at UBC Library – but you could also call her the book doctor. “We have the same goal,” says Lama, comparing herself to a physician. “Preserve our patients from disease, and limit medication and surgery, if it is possible.”

Since arriving at UBC in 2013 after a decade-long stint at the National Archives in France, Lama has been developing a comprehensive preservation and conservation strategy to safeguard the Library’s vast physical collections. That’s no small task, given the challenges of working with finite materials. Paper and cardboard, after all, degrade. Leather covers dry out. Aging newsprint turns yellow and eventually disintegrates.

In response, Lama has been busy training staff across the Library system in preservation and mending techniques. She’s also worked with Rare Books and Special Collections and University Archives to ensure a high level of collections care, and planned a range of public and staff-related activities to celebrate Preservation Week, an annual spring event. A top priority moving forward is the establishment of a conservation lab in Woodward Library.

“Anne’s contributions are already making a huge difference in terms of staff training, programs and the development of facilities for conservation,” says Alvan Bregman, Head of Technical Services.

The need to preserve collections for generations of scholars, researchers, students and lifelong learners also extends to the digital realm (indeed, managing collections in a digital context is one of the Library’s key directions in its strategic plan). Dizzying changes in formats and software can make it difficult to keep electronic assets – ranging from e-books to archival items – from disappearing into the digital ether.

In response, UBC Library began formulating its digital preservation strategy in 2011. Since then, it has worked with Artefactual Systems, a Metro Vancouver company, on an open source digital preservation system to help ensure that University publications, databases, theses, data sets and other types of digital collections endure.

The Library is also involved in other initiatives, including a collaborative project with Simon Fraser University and the University of Alberta that could lead to a Western Canadian preservation “backbone” and, ultimately, a national digital preservation network.


Join the conversation: The Library also depends on its users to help care for its collections. What steps can you take to ensure that Library materials are maintained for generations to come?

You are invited to celebrate Preservation Week with UBC Library as we feature blog posts from our community members highlighting personal archives and family histories.

Do you have a special heritage object that you’d like to share with the UBC community? Perhaps a family heirloom with an interesting story or piece of memorabilia? The stories we tell are more than just personal histories; they are the histories of our community. Help us celebrate those memories worth saving by sharing yours. We will be posting all the stories we receive on Storify and Flickr throughout Preservation Week (April 27 to May 3).

To participate, submit an image of your heritage object along with a story or description of the items. Please limit your story to approximately 300 words or less.

You can tweet us, Facebook us, or even just make a comment on this post! Or to have your photo posted on our Flickr account, send us an image and a story to Library Communications by May 3.

Submission so far include:

Be sure to tell us about your heritage objects, heirlooms, photos or memorabilia! Two of the top submissions will receive a $25 gift card to the UBC Bookstore.



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