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During this time of home confinement, many of you may have decided to launch into one of those time-consuming projects that you never had time to do before the pandemic. Maybe you are going through old family photos and memorabilia for the purpose of making a scrapbook, or doing a scanning project. Or maybe you just got back into reading some old favorite books from your collection. While we are all becoming pros at keeping ourselves and our families safe from COVID-19, there are some things to consider to protect your family heirlooms during this time as well. Here are a few tips:

  • A study conducted by the Library of Congress has shown that handling colored paper and cloth after using hand sanitizer containing alcohol will damage these materials. If you have been using hand sanitizer, be sure to wash it off before handling family papers, books bound in cloth or paper, and books with paper dust jackets. This study did not include photographs, but you should always wash your hands before handling photographs anyway.
  • Do not attempt to clean or sanitize such materials. If you are worried they have been handled by someone who may be sick, isolation is the best way to make them safe for handling again. Current guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tells us that porous objects like paper and cloth can only maintain active virus contamination for 24 hours. Because some book covers contain some plastic coatings, we recommend that you adhere to CDC guidelines for isolating plastics, which is 72 hours.
  • Isolation does not mean that you need to put your materials outside on a porch or in a basement or garage. Just put them in a box or bag and set them aside somewhere inside a climate-controlled area of your house or apartment. The spring weather brings very wide fluctuations in temperature, which are not good for paper-based materials, especially older ones.

For additional guidance on your personal books, photographs, and digital files, please explore these helpful links:

–Leslie Courtois, Conservator

Check out items from personal collections of LVA staffers!

Leslie Courtois


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