The internet is teeming with guides describing the benefits of decluttering your home and how-to’s addressing the preservation of family heirlooms and archives. These guides typically cover the common “archives” we find in our homes: papers, photographs, scrapbooks, and basic digital files. But what about all of those other things we inherit and accumulate and want to preserve and keep forever? Today I’m going to take some time to cover items you might like to preserve for the long term but that do not often make the common at-home archiving list. This post addresses basic preservation techniques and exhibiting advice for vinyl records, cassette tapes, and textiles.
Vinyl Records or Long Playing Discs (LPs)
We get it, you miss buying CDs and now that Taylor Swift has released her new album on vinyl, you’ve purchased your Crosley tabletop turntable (record player) and are now a die-hard audiophile. But how do you actually take care of that LP edition of Lover so you can pass it on to your kids when we enter the third age of vinyl in 30 years? Look no further! For general preservation advice, check out this blog post. But here is the quick and dirty of vinyl preservation:
An example of a warped vinyl record, probably caused by light, heat and humidity exposure.
- Stop stacking records in a pile and stop leaning them when filed on a shelf. While the album covers help records stand up and minimally protect them, vinyl is very fragile and weak and will warp if not supported or stood straight up and down on a shelf.
- Stop touching the vinyl! Do not pick that piece of lint off the record with your hand. Do not clench the record in the slip cover while you’re trying in vain to shove the album back into the album cover. And do not cautiously stroke the vinyl because it’s really soft. Again, vinyl is very fragile. If you need to clean the record before playing (which you should do each time), utilize a simple record cleaning kit. When handling the record, only touch the outer edge of the disc and the center where the label is. Even when the album is in its paper cover, do not pinch or grab the record; this can cause you to scratch, warp or otherwise damage the record.
- Keep albums away from sunlight, high humidity, very hot or cold temperatures, and dusty environments. Always keep albums in archival dust covers.
A simple record display shelf. Image courtesy of Carrie Waller of “Dream Green DIY.”
Displaying albums is a fun way to showcase your great taste in music while also covering up the nail holes in your wall. When displaying albums that you wish to also listen to and keep for a long time, be a bit more careful and specific about how you display them. First, ensure that the wall on which you would like the album to rest receives no sunlight. Any direct or even indirect sunlight will cause the album cover to fade and discolor and will cause the vinyl disc to warp, or in extreme cases melt. Next, to hang the album, my best recommendation is to simply utilize a small display shelf rather than a frame. This allows you to easily switch out the albums you showcase and easily play them. Additionally, while your whole vinyl collection should be stored in individual archival dust sleeves, make sure that the particular album on display has a dust cover, as it will be exposed on all sides to settling dust particles.
Now, on to cassette tapes, or specifically in this case compact cassettes. If your dad is anything like mine, then you’re due to inherit about 200 mixtapes chronicling the hits from 1973-1996. Or you’re still holding on to the first piece of music you ever owned, …Baby One More Time on cassette. Regardless, you may want to keep and listen to these audio gems now and in the future (those mixtapes sure tell a story about your dad’s delve into new wave in the early ’80s), so how can you ensure their quality and playback ability? First, be aware that cassette tapes consist of audio that has been recorded onto cheap polyester base tape; therefore, it will deteriorate easily even in the best archival facilities. With that said, cassette tapes surprisingly generally seem to live beyond their life expectancy. To ensure that yours do too, follow these basic preservation guidelines:
An example of tape deterioration due to sticky-shed syndrome. Image courtesy of Imperial College London via Michelle Boyer-Kelly’s post on the University of Arizona Special Collections blog.
- Store cassette tapes in acid-free cases, or at the very least in their original plastic cases. Each tape should have its own case.
- When storing cassettes in a larger media archival box, or on a shelf, they should be stored vertically on end, and never stacked on top of each other.
- Keep your cassettes in a room with stable temperature and humidity. This is a good rule of thumb for all materials you’re seeking to preserve. Ideally, the temperature should range between 45-54 degrees Fahrenheit and 30-50% RH.
- I feel like this should be obvious, but in case it’s not: Do not under any circumstance touch the tape surface. The magnetic tape within the cassette housing is very fragile and touching or pulling the tape, especially if it’s old, can damage or break it, rendering playback impossible.
- For playback, or listening to your cassette tapes, first make sure that the cassette player is clean and dust-free. One of the biggest threats of playing a cassette is accidentally recording something on top of the original recording, so be sure you press the correct button. Never leave a cassette player in the playback machine; always return it to its proper storage container right after ceasing playback.
Should you find yourself wishing to display your cassette tapes, follow the same guidelines for displaying LPs.
An example of the archival storage of cassette tapes. Image courtesy of Gaylord Archival.
Whether it’s your wedding dress, an autographed NFL jersey, or the quilt your great-grandmother left you, textiles are common items we acquire that require some TLC to ensure they last for generations. Textiles can be particularly difficult to preserve due to the natural fibers they’re composed of, which renders them particularly susceptible to deterioration and damage. But by following some basic preservation principles and techniques, you can make sure that grandma’s coat lasts for many years to come:
An example of how delicate fabrics can deteriorate over time. Image courtesy of the Government of Canada and this great guide to caring for textiles.
- If possible, never fold textiles. This is especially important for tapestries, blankets and rugs. The best method for storage is to roll textiles around a dowel covered with archival tissue paper (acid-free). However, should folding be the only method possible, do not fold textiles tightly, rather utilize the least number of folds possible and place archival tissue paper between the folds.
- From there, store textiles in an airtight container, or an archival box. For very heavy items, make sure that the container is able to support the item and consider storing it on a lower shelf. Avoid storing linen in a wooden wardrobe or on wooden shelves. Wood can harbor mites and pests and can damage materials when affected by seasonal humidity. For textiles, you want the humidity to be between 40-50% RH.
- To combat pests, preventative measures are best. Do not use mothballs in containers with textiles, as they are not very efficient at deterring pests and they can be harmful to textiles. Instead, place pest traps in the same room as the stored items. Finding pests in the traps should alert you to a potential problem you should address.
- When cleaning textiles, the best method is actually to vacuum them with a low-powered hand vacuum. For particularly fragile textiles, place a fine screen (like one you would purchase from a hardware store) on top of the object and vacuum through that. The screen method helps prevent damage to fabrics that are fraying or contain embroidery or beading. Never dry clean old textiles; the harsh chemicals used will damage delicate fabrics and textiles.
- Textiles should be periodically taken out of storage, aired out, and checked for pests or damage. When textiles are ready to be placed back into storage, fold them along different lines if they must be folded and replace any archival tissue paper.
An example of a garment displayed in framing behind UV filtering glass. Image courtesy of Museum Textile Services.
First, make sure that the item is of a good enough quality and condition for exhibition. Anything too fragile or already damaged may be better suited to staying in storage. Additionally, some textiles, like large quilts, may be too heavy to be hung on a wall. If you pair both of those together, you encounter the possible situation where an item may be heavy and fragile and, therefore, cannot support its own weight. In these situations, hanging or exhibiting can cause the textile to tear, stretch or weaken.
If you have found a textile that is perfect for exhibiting on your wall, you’ll first want to be mindful of sunlight; do not display on a wall with direct or indirect sunlight. For very rare or fragile textiles, you may even want to consider displaying them behind UV filtering Plexiglas. Plexiglas is better suited to displaying historical materials than standard glass, given that it is more difficult to break, and broken glass shards can damage a textile. Next, if you go the framing route, you’ll need to use a specific method and materials that will ensure that your football jersey remains in tiptop shape. The method of adhering textiles to backing or hooks can be somewhat complicated, so check out this guide made available by the Minnesota Historical Society and this one by The George Washington University Museum. These guides also provide information about both how to properly frame textiles and how to hang them simply on the wall (spoiler alert: it does not involve thumbtacks!).
Still want to flip this post over and check out the A-side of at-home preservation? Please reach out to the Archives & Local History department at Douglas County Libraries with any questions, or check out these online at-home preservation resources for common items:
- Information from the National Archives: https://www.archives.gov/preservation/family-archives
- Digital preservation guide from the Library of Congress: http://digitalpreservation.gov/personalarchiving/