Best Practices for Storing Your Collection

Principles of Collections Storage

In the planning stage of managing your collection it is important to have a complete record, a catalogue or list that includes location, type of artifact, type of material or other significant factors. Full technical and historical information on the artifacts in your collections catalogue is ideal.

Collection Storage Location

The storage location for your collection ideally should be located in the central space within your building away from outside walls, heating areas, water mains, and daylight. Basements and attics are the worst possible place for storage because they are closest to the exterior of the building and are exposed to temperature extremes. Unfortunately, these areas are often the only locations available for collection storage. An understanding of the special problems of each space can help make basements and attics better environments despite their inherent limitations as storage spaces.


Light, both visible and invisible, is damaging to most objects. Ultraviolet radiation (UV) is extremely damaging to many materials; it is a part of daylight that can also be emitted by other light sources. Natural sunlight should be eliminated from storage areas by closing off all windows in the space or by covering the windows with heavy black curtains or shades. In general, lights should be turned on only when persons are in the storage area. Care must be taken that light bulbs and lighting tubes are located sufficient distances from objects to avoid fire hazards as well as to prevent deterioration of materials.

Storage Materials and Methods

Good storage should be accessible, permit easy movement of objects, and be safe for both objects and persons. The basic types of storage units available are cabinets, flat drawer files, bins or shelves. If open shelves are to be used for the storage of artifacts, the shelves should be padded to decrease the damage to artifacts. It is preferable to place smaller or more fragile objects in storage boxes that are housed directly on shelves, rather than to place objects directly upon padded shelves.

Storage shelves and units/cabinets must be raised at least six inches above floor level to reduce the possibility of damage from flooding. Large objects, such as furniture or musical instruments, should be placed on raised platforms padded with carpeting.

Storage and Care of Photographs

The care and storage of photographs differs from that of other records because of their structure and materials. Almost all photographs consist of a two-layer structure, the support and an image-bearing layer. Unsleeved photographic negatives and prints, whether on glass, plastic, paper or metal, should be handled while wearing cotton or nylon gloves, as the image-bearing layer of photographs is at risk of being damaged from fingerprints or scratches.

Photographs should not be folded or left unprotected from dust and direct sunlight. Food and drink should never be consumed in the direct vicinity of photographs (or any records).

Additional Best Practices

  • Store archival materials in acid-free folders or envelopes.
  • Place those folders in standard size acid-free, dust-tight boxes.
  • Photocopy newspaper clippings onto acid-free papers in order to save the information.
  • Open, unfold, and flatten documents. Dust off surface dirt. Store photographs flat in boxes (to avoid curling) and paper documents upright. Make sure that the items are neither crowded in the boxes nor slumping.
  • Place photographs in alkaline buffered, alpha-cellulose folders or four-flap envelopes. Use a soft pencil to make identifying marks on the backs or edges of photographs.
  • Encapsulate fragile, rare, and frequently used items in Mylar, a clear and safe polyester film. Do not use Mylar with pastel sketches or penciled documents because it holds a static charge.
  • Place acid-free paper on both sides of acidic documents to avoid acid migration. The acid in one piece of paper can literally burn through surrounding documents. Newspaper, telegrams, and other poor-quality paper are the most acidic.
  • Store videotapes upright and films flat, like pancakes. With videotape, a magnetic medium, it is important to keep both a master (from which you can make copies) and a viewing copy (which you can use).
Best Practices for Storing Your Collection