We keep paper mementos (we usually call them "scrapbook" stuff) because they document or remind us of something in our past that we want to remember. Such items may include official records, certificates, cards (of various kinds), licenses, programs, clippings, awards, receipts, announcements, resumes, invitations, and other various printed items. These are indeed an important part of life's record, worth preserving.
The problem is that most of these mementos have been printed on paper that does not last: the paper slowly yellows and eventually begins to flake away. (Because most books in the last several decades have been printed on acidic paper, salvaging books is one of the greatest challenges that librarians face.) For many years, most paper has been manufactured by a process that leaves a residue of acid in the paper; and the acid literally consumes the paper. Some paper (usually it's more expensive) is less acidic than others (newsprint and cheap writing tablets die fastest).The challenge is twofold: slow down the deterioration as much as possible; do something to preserve permanent copies of your mementos. Let's address the second challenge first.
Photocopy all your mementos on acid-free paper. Paper that is pH neutral is commonly available nowadays. Many bonds are acid-free. Some copy machine paper is also, and even much of the continuous-form computer paper. Store clerks may or may not know which paper is safe. Look on the label for such indications as "pH neutral, acid-free, archival," etc. If you don't see such a notice, then take with you a pH testing pen (archival supply outlets sell these), and check the paper yourself.
Don't put letters back into their envelopes; store them as full, flat pages.
Collections of copies of mementos make excellent gifts for family members. Consider writing lengthy captions or even stories or explanations of your mementos, to give them more meaning. Many of my students prepare beautiful archival scrapbooks of mementos for themselves, a relative or an entire family.
Properly store your mementos. Never laminate a memento. Never store a memento in any plastic (especially not vinyl) except polyetheylene or polypropylene, unless an archivist suggests something else. Never use an adhesive (glue) on a memento. Keep mementos out of sunlight and florescent light. Don't store them in any ordinary envelopes, boxes, folders, chests or drawers - only in an archival setting.
Do store your originals in acid-free folders, interleaved with acid-free paper, in a metal filing cabinet, or an acid-free box. If you wish to display the originals, consider putting them in polypropylene sleeves, made of safe plastic and available in office supply stores and at large buying clubs. These are 81/2-by-11-inch sleeves, in various thicknesses, made to fit in a three-ring binder. Mementos can be just slipped in; or if your items are smaller, they can be "mounted" on acid-free paper. Again, use no glues. Cut small slits in the acid-free paper, and tuck the corners of the memento into these slits.
Lovely, archival-quality, three-ring binders are now available (a little expensive, but consider the value of your mementos!), many of them with slipcovers. Remember to avoid vinyl (identifiable by its odor) or other ordinary binders.
Just a note: Journals at the LDS distribution center are acid-free. Use a pen with carbon ink when writing. Carbon ink is found in accountant, archival, legal, carbide, laundry or permanent pens.
- Don Norton is an assistant professor of English at BYU and a frequent lecturer on the subject of preserving mementos. He serves as a gospel doctrine teacher in the Cascade 1st Ward, Orem Utah Stake.