Preserve Your Memories

Posted on May 12, 2016 by Kera Newby in

Every year the beginning of May is a time when archivists and other cultural heritage professionals take personal and professional responsibility to help make a difference if an emergency occurs in their repositories. For the staff of the Donald C. & Elizabeth M. Dickinson Research Center at the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum, it’s a yearly reminder to review our disaster preparedness documents and discuss how to react during different events.

This year we’re expanding the May Day theme and giving you some tips on how to keep your personal archive safe and preserved. Many people hold on to at least some mementos throughout their lives, but few keep the records in conditions that ensure their survival into the future.


Below are steps you can take to preserve and prolong the life of your documents, photographs, and other media.

  • Not too cold, not too hot, just right!
    • Store your paper and photographs in an environment with stable temperature and humidity. Archival materials expand and contract when their surrounding conditions change, causing damage to the items. Avoid keeping them in the attic, basement, garage, or outdoor buildings.
  • Handle with care!
    • The box you store items in is just as important as where you put it. Aim for using acid free boxes – they’re a little more expensive than traditional cardboard, but are crucial for preservation.
    • Acid free boxes come in all shapes and sizes – make sure the fit is right or your documents or photographs will warp and will deteriorate at a faster rate.
    • Sort like with like – materials have different needs and by grouping things together you’re helping to preserve them.
  • Digital files count!
    • Make sure all of your digital media is backed up in multiple forms. DVDs, CDs, and flash drives are not the most stable option. They have a high failure rate and are susceptible to data rot. Consider cloud-based storage solutions or an external hard drive but be sure to replace it every five years.



For additional resources see the National Archives and Records Administration, the Northeast Document Conservation Center, or email the DRC staff at


May Day graphic

About Kera

Kera Newby is the Digital and Manuscript Archivist at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum. She enjoys the daily adventures and learning opportunities that come with working in an archive.