There is GOOD news and BAD news in the world of preservation.
The GOOD news is that books, personal papers, and black and white photographs can last a very long time with proper care. The most important steps toward preserving these, or any other historical item, is to
1. keep them in the dark
2. keep them very cool
3. keep them in low humidity
4. don’t laminate or put in plastic or acidic folders
The BAD news is that color photographs and video and sound tape recordings are not going to last a long time, even with proper care. We all know from experience that color photographs fade in a relatively short time. Historians say that if we modern photographers don’t get busy and make some black and white photographs of our families, our great-great-grandchildren won’ t know what we looked like.
At a recent archival seminar which I attended at the University of Texas, the subject was how to preserve non-paper based collections. The speaker, an expert in preservation, explained the physical and chemical structure of many non-paper items including floppy disks, movie and still film, and video and sound tapes.
Unfortunately, tapes last only 10-20 years. Although they can be copied, with each generation of copies some of the information is lost, and eventually you have nothing. The copies should be made on high-tech machinery. Due to the complications and cost of preserving video and sound recording, and obtaining the proper equipment to play the tapes, many archives have decided not to collect oral histories and other tapes.
So if you are taping oral histories from family and friends, be sure to transcribe onto paper their information. Supplement your movies and video tapes with black and white photographs. And remember — all electronic equipment becomes obsolete very quickly in our modern times, and it may be hard for your descendants to play your tapes. And most of all – keep everything as cool as possible, with low humidity and in the proper box or envelope. Help and advice is available at the Museum.