After a flood damaged his personal memoirs, Christopher McAfee decided to complete an internship in book conservation.
Now as the head conservator for the L. Tom Perry Special Collections at Brigham Young University’s Harold B. Lee Library, McAfee is able to teach others how to properly handle cherished items.
April 24-30 is Preservation Week, which highlights preserving historical items and collections. McAfee and specialists with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' Church History Library and FamilySearch shared advice on how individuals can repair and preserve their personal collections of family history items.
“If you know memories about your ancestors, they will mean more to you,” said Dennis Meldrum, the partnership manager for FamilySearch Family History Books. “You’ll appreciate them more and you’ll love them more. They are more than just a name on the paper.”
McAfee has seen a variety of do-it-yourself projects that people undertake in order to preserve an object. Some repair ideas are good, he said, while some can cause more damage.
“When I worked at (the) Church History (Library), we would always say that tape is a four-letter word,” McAfee said with a laugh. “I think tape is the most common amateur repair we see.”
In addition to being hard to remove, McAfee said, tape can sometimes crosslink with fibers in the paper and create a chemical reaction where the adhesive and paper become one. This reaction can lead to discoloration of the paper and make it brittle.
Another common amateur fix is glue.
“In most books, the spine of the cover breaks away from the spine of the textbook as the book is opened,” McAfee said. “As you glue them together, it makes it harder to open the book.”
McAfee said a person should ask, "How valuable is the book?" before any work is done to preserve it. He usually tells people to not repair their own things but to instead, if a book is rare and valuable, find and hire a conservator.
Joan Nay, a rare book specialist at the LDS Church History Library, also suggests asking if a book is valuable. She said that just because a book is old does not make it rare or mean that it has a high market value.
“For those who find a rare book and would like to have it appraised, they should contact a book dealer,” she said. She added that if a book is falling apart and pages are falling out, a person should take the book to a binder who can fix, preserve and restore the item.
Nay suggests digitizing family books that people want to keep.
Twelve years ago, FamilySearch launched Family History Books at books.familysearch.org, which digitizes and creates electronic books, Meldrum said.
“The total number of books we have online, as of today, is 270,627 books,” Meldrum said. “One of our goals in preservation is to gather as many of these as we can so people can share them.”
FamilySearch has scanners throughout the United States, including two in Utah. It usually takes two to three weeks for the information to appear online.
“If they have a book that they have written, we would like them to contact FamilySearch,” Meldrum said. “If they contact us, we will make arrangements to send them a permission form, because of copyright, letting FamilySearch digitize the book and put it online.”
To submit a family history book, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Here are some suggestions from Christopher McAfee, head conservator for the L. Tom Perry Special Collections at Brigham Young University’s Harold B. Lee Library; Joan Nay, a rare book specialist at the LDS Church History Library; and Dennis Meldrum, the partnership manager for FamilySearch Family History Books:
• Think about preservation as risk management to mitigate damage and minimize risks.
• Find a conservator to help restore items such as art, rare books, photographs, textiles or photographs, at the American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works, online at conservation-us.org.
• To sell a rare book or have it appraised, contact a book dealer.
• Storing items in food-grade bags, such as Ziploc bags, is acceptable. Leave the bag open to allow for circulation.
• Organize and weed out things now. Save things that will tell your ancestors' or your story.
• To store books, lay them flat or set them up on a shelf for storage (not in a box with the spine up). Keep them out of direct sunlight. Do not store them on the floor of the basement.
• Stories, photos, memories, audio files or scanned documents can be uploaded to FamilySearch.org. A FamilySearch account is free for everyone. When labeling photos, include the names of the people in each photo. Like Facebook, FamilySearch has the ability to tag photos.
• Share family members' stories. Start with a grandparent and focus on positive experiences, but be careful about sensitive information.