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Looking after your own records


General Rules

There are a number of general rules to follow when caring for books and archives:

  • Store archives in archival quality products. A list of suppliers can be found at the end of this leaflet
  • Box items wherever possible. This gives a basic level of protection which should not be underestimated
  • Make sure that the temperature and humidity are reasonably stable in your storage area. Records are commonly stored in attics and cellars but these areas can be subject to damp and extremes of temperature
  • Do not store items on the floor. Keeping them above ground level will help avoid water damage in cases of flooding
  • Seek professional advice if an item needs repairing or if you find mould. You can make damage worse by attempting to repair items yourself. Mould can cause illness
  • Handle records as little as possible to reduce wear and tear
  • Store records out of direct sources of heat and light


The National Preservation Office (NPO) has produced some excellent guidelines on cleaning books. See the NPO Leaflets section on their website for further information.

  • Store books out of direct sunlight and away from direct heat.
  • Do not store books in rooms which are humid, such as conservatories, or in places where condensation forms, such as a window sill.
  • Remove book marks from books when storing them so that they do not stain the pages.
  • Store heavy books flat on their sides so that the pages do no come away from the binding.
  • Do not take books off shelves by pulling at the spine – grip them in the middle.
  • Gently dust away any dirt or dust that gathers on books with a soft-haired brush on a regular basis.

Paper records

Paper is made either by hand or mechanically. Hand made paper usually has a soft edge and may have been watermarked or have chain lines which are visible when held up to a light. It is often a creamy, off white colour. Mechanically made paper is often yellower than hand made paper because its fibres are more acidic. It usually shows small diamond shaped patterns rather than chain lines or watermarks. Generally speaking, the more recent the paper, the more likely it is to be mechanically made and the more acidic it is likely to be.

  • Keep paper at a stored at a constant temperature of about 18°C and a humidity level of about 50% and out of a brightly lit area
  • Use acid-free folders and boxes to store papers. Plastic wallets are not suitable because they can ‘strip’ ink from paper. Brown envelopes are also not suitable because they are fairly acidic
  • Papers can be interleaved with acid free paper. This acts like a sponge and soaks up any acid that may migrate from the papers you are storing. If this method is used, the acid free paper should be changed regularly, i.e. once or twice a year
  • Store papers flat wherever possible to reduce stress on folders and help avoid damage
  • Remove steel paper clips, staples, pins, rubber bands, pink legal tape and sellotape (but only if it will peel away easily) from papers prior to storage. These items may rust or rot and cause damage. Use brass paper clips or unbleached cotton or linen tape to hold papers together.
  • Do not repair paper documents with sellotape. It will dry out over time and cause further damage to the document
  • Newspapers: these are highly acidic and should be kept away from other items to prevent acid migration
  • Photocopies: these are not stable, whether they are black and white or colour. The ink used can fade if exposed to strong light
  • Maps and plans: can be stored flat if they are small. Larger maps and plans can be stored by sandwiching with acid free tissue of paper and then wrapping around the outside of a cardboard tube, preferably with a diameter of at least 8cm or 3in diameter


The two most common types of photographic print are albumen and gelatine. Albumen prints were popular between about 1855-1900 and can be identified by their yellow appearance. Gelatine prints were developed about 1895 and can be identified by their silvery appearance. Both are very sensitive to water and light. Gelatine prints were replaced around 1960 by chromogenic colour prints.

  • Handle photographs very carefully by the edges and wear white cotton gloves wherever possible
  • Store photographs in a cool, dry, dark place
  • Keep prints and negatives in archival quality sleeves and boxes. Use silversafe photographic quality paper to protect photographs rather than archival paper which can react with photographic images
  • Do not use self-adhesive albums as the sticky surface can damage photographs. Photographic corners used with plain page albums are preferable.
  • Never clean photographs: this can cause damage
  • Try not to write on photographs. If you must, write very lightly and only use a soft (2B) pencil

Further Reading

The British Library Preservation Advisory Centre  have produced a number excellent information leaflets, all of which are downloadable on their website. From their website, click on NPO Services and then on Publications to view them.

BS5454:2000 is the British Standard for Recommendations for the Storage and Exhibition of Archival Documents. An overview of the standard is available at the National Archives website Link to External Website.

Useful contacts

Conservation by Design Limited CXD (Conservation supplies of all kinds)
Bedford Link Logistics, Park Bell Farm Way, Kempston, Bedfordshire, MK43 9SS
Phone 01234 846300

Preservation Equipment Ltd (Conservation supplies of all kinds)
Postal AddressVinces Road, Diss, Norfolk, IP22 4HQ
Telephone Number 01379 647400
Fax Number 01379 650582

Secol Limited (Specialists in archival quality polyester film packaging)
Postal AddressHowlett Way, Thetford, Norfolk, IP24 1HZ
Telephone Number 01842 752341
Fax Number 01842 762159
Email Link to External Website

National Preservation Office (For general advice, training and downloadable)information
Postal AddressThe British Library, 96 Euston Road, London, NW1 2DB
Telephone Number Customer Services 01937 546060

Conservation Register (To find contact details of a local conservator)
The Institute of Conservation, 106-109 Saffron Hill, London EC1N 8QS
Phone 01234 846300

Revised April 2021