Everything I needed to know about preservation I learned from the UNT Music Library

Acid causes paper deterioration. Store important family documents in acid-free and lignin-free folders.

Scan photos at a high resolution if you think you’ll want to print out copies later on, but a lower resolution is fine if you’re just going to view them on a computer.

Black-and-white documents can be scanned as TIFF files. LZW compression makes the files smaller without losing quality.

Back up everything. Frequently, and in multiple places.

Make lists of items that are stored in archival boxes.

Label the boxes.

Organize things in a way that makes sense. Don’t try to force a system that doesn’t suit the collection.

Online preservation sites have a far wider selection and more reasonable prices than places like The Container Store.

Invest in high-quality tape. And for the vast majority of things, stay away from glue.

Consider digitizing your audio and video collection.

Make sure that any recordings are in a format that’s not obsolete.

Think very carefully about what you want to hold onto. 40 years from now, a total stranger could be digging through your possessions and come across dusty cat-hair covered pantyhose that belonged to your fourth wife. Sure, you’ll be dead and not have to defend yourself, but out of consideration for the person who will be tasked with this responsibility, for the love of God throw out the pantyhose.

Take a picture. It will last longer. Then donate the objects to a non-profit that will actually use them.

OK, so I learned a lot more than that, and academic libraries tend to hold on to a lot more than what we at home need to store indefinitely…but these tips have been going through my head quite a bit lately as I organize my mother’s and grandparents’ stuff. Ultimately, I’ve concluded that less is more. Most things aren’t worth saving, and digital copies of papers and photos are usually sufficient except for very important items like birth and marriage certificates. Old letters can also be fun, but store them compactly. And don’t think that you need to save every single picture, especially ones that are blurry or feature random, unidentified people your grandparents sat at dinner with on a cruise.

Oh, and have I mentioned that I loved working at the library? Happy Organizing!

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