Archiving Advice

Foto: SLS/Janne Rentola

How to store archival material and books

Archival material and old books are often forgotten about, stored in attics and cellars, in dusty or damp boxes. With proper care, your books and documents can last for centuries. On this page we provide you with practical advice on how to organize and store archival material.

Where do you start?

First, make an inventory of the material. What type of documents are they? Who did they belong to and what period are they from? Divide the material into thematic units and organise it chronologically. If there is an internal order to the material, it is best not to disturb this order. Store the archival material in a cool area protected against fire, water, moisture, bright light, dust, dirt and polluted air.

  • Archival material should not be stored in attics, dusty rooms, garages or other such storage spaces.
  • Remove everything from documents and manuscripts that will ultimately destroy them such as paper clips, rubber bands and plastic pockets.
  • Remove tape if this can be done without damaging the documents.
  • Protect seals with tissue paper.
  • Cover oilcloth pamphlets and diaries with wrapping paper.
  • Remove any duplicates.
  • Paper documents should be placed in archives quality folders.
  • Take letters out of their envelopes and fold them out flat. Save the envelopes if they contain important information.
  • List the letters alphabetically and/or chronologically.
  • Make printouts of e-mail messages and diskettes.
  • Save newspaper clippings and other printed matter separately.
  • Purchase a fireproof filing cabinet for the oldest documents such as wills, deeds of purchase, etc.

Photographs are usually glued into albums or are loose in boxes. Note on them information about the subject, the individuals in the photograph, date, place and photographer. Make these notes on the protective pocket or on the reverse side of the photograph with a soft lead pencil. Do not thumb through negatives without using protective gloves.

Negatives (glass, nitrate, acetate and polyester) should be kept at a constant temperature of 15–18°C (not above 22°C) and at a relative humidity of about 45 per cent (no more than 60 percent). They should be stored in negative pockets made of acid-free paper or polyester/polyethylene. Nitrate and acetate negatives are sensitive, and should be stored in an airy environment, separate from other photographic material. While black-and-white negatives can be stored at normal room temperature, colour negatives must be stored in a cool environment.

Positives are best kept in their albums or in protective pockets.

Slides should be stored in frames or protective pockets.


Bookbindings that are handled with care can last for hundreds of years. Books published before the mid-nineteenth century are printed on durable paper made from rags. It is a good idea to make a catalogue or database of the books in older, valuable book collections, particularly in view of the risk of theft. Information about signatures and Ex Libris book plates can help to identify a book if it turns up in an antiquarian bookshop.

How do you store books?

  • Do not store books too tightly in bookshelves. Large format books should preferably be stored lying down.
  • Protect the books from dust, dirt, direct sunlight, pests, humidity and mould. The best environment for valuable book collections is a bookcase.
  • Remove any bookmarks, paper clips and tape which with time will destroy the paper.
  • Also remove newspaper clippings, locks of hair and dried plants.
  • Do not dust the books with a damp cloth! Careful cleaning with a feather duster is OK.
  • Damaged books can be stored in a protective slipcase.
  • If you want to have the book repaired or rebound, it is important to respect the historic nature of the book’s binding. The original cover should always be retained. Hire a professional to assess what measures are appropriate.

We are happy to provide you with practical advice regarding the acquisition of suitable material (covers, folders, pockets, etc.) and information about how to list archives and libraries. Please contact SLS Customer Service to find out more.