Physical Storage Conditions

Temperature and Humidity:

Archival materials are extremely susceptible to environmental conditions, with particular problems stemming from changes in temperature and humidity. Many archival collections, particularly those that are held in private hands or by institutions that do not have archival programs, tend to be stored in attics and basements. Controlling for these conditions can be extremely difficult. It is particularly hard in the spring and fall when the HVAC systems are adjusting constantly for shifting weather. However, if you can make some improvements to the temperature and humidity in the space, it will go very far in improving the longevity of your materials.

There are some guidelines that are recommended for archival storage. The temperature should be no higher than 70° and the building should have a relative humidity between 30% and 50%. Humidity is more often a problem than temperature in spaces that are shared with personnel space, as people can tolerate a much larger humidity range

It is important to work closely with your building maintenance to make sure that these conditions are at least monitored. Some options that you may want to consider are spending a small amount of money for a temperature and humidity monitor, those are easily purchased online. Onset Hobo Data Loggers are an affordable brand that can be easily monitored using a personal computer. Dataloggers can be purchased on this website: Once you have this data, then it may be prudent to consider moving your materials to a part of the building where the environment is closer to recommended levels.

It is important to remember that consistency is just as important as the settings themselves. When there are vast changes in temperature and humidity, especially in a short time-frame, materials will expand and contract, causing cracking and breakage.

While it is impossible to ensure that materials will last forever, environmental conditions are an extremely common cause of deterioration in materials that would otherwise have a long life span. It is therefore a good first step in preserving your collections to address where they are stored, and make any adjustments to the space that will improve these conditions.

Appropriate Housing

Archival boxes meant for holding specific materials types are the ideal housing for archival materials. However, in many cases, especially for specialized materials, they can be prohibitively expensive.

Clamshell archival boxes from the VPHS Archives. Photograph by Taber Andrew Bain.
Clamshell archival boxes from the VPHS Archives. Photograph by Taber Andrew Bain. Licensed under CC BY 4.0.
Large archival boxes. Photograph by Taber Andrew Bain. Licensed under CC BY 4.0.
Large archival boxes. Photograph by Taber Andrew Bain. Licensed under CC BY 4.0.

Most archives use a combination of specialized housing and boxes that are less expensive but have a similar functionality.

Most importantly, you should be storing your materials in boxes that protect them from dust, water, and sunlight, that includes any hard-sided cardboard box.  For paper and photographs, make sure that the folders are acid-free and it is recommended to not use any metal or plastic, since they emit chemicals that can damage materials.

Media materials are rarely stored in boxes, as they often come in storage containers that are appropriately sized and provide good support to the materials. Particularly with open-reel tape, there is no reason to remove them from the containers that they were in when they were created, as they will provide good support. All media materials should be stored upright.


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