Preserving Your Own Documents

  • 18 October 2010

A water-damaged journal.

Article Highlights

  • Be discriminating about what you save.
  • Digital preservation is still uncertain, so paper copies are safer.

“I think people really need to decide, ‘What tells my story?’ and save those things. And then those things they need to save well.”

Are you worried about preserving your own valuable documents and precious photographs? Chris McAfee, a senior conservator for the Church History Library, has some advice—choose carefully what you keep, and think paper.

Most of us, he advises, need to be “discriminating” about what we save. “If people save too much, it becomes difficult to preserve later.”

“I think people really need to decide, ‘What tells my story?’ and save those things. And then those things they need to save well.”

He recommends saving documents using archival materials and techniques—acid-free folders, for example, or bins or other enclosures that do not contain harmful chemicals.

It may seem strange in a digital age, but he recommends printing and saving paper copies of documents and photographs.

“Digital preservation is still tentative,” Brother McAfee explains. Currently, there is no standard accepted among preservationists for safeguarding digital materials. Research and testing is taking place, and in the not-distant future, he expects to see standards and materials for long-term preservation of digital documents and images. But for the present, “people should not expect their digital materials to last more than five years.”

This means, he explains, that those who store documents and images on computers will have to be diligent about regularly transferring digital materials to new disks or hard drives, or to new formats as these become available.