Newspaper Preservation

Guest Contributor: Mary Clare Johnson, Collections Archivist, Alabama Department of Archives and History

Many of us collect and keep newspapers and clippings as souvenirs of historical and personal importance; however, these ephemeral objects are not meant to last forever and have an expected lifespan of 50 years or less. They require special care and proper storage to outlast their impermanent lifespans.

They are usually printed on inexpensive, poor-quality paper made from unpurified wood pulp. This type of paper has a chemically unstable nature that causes it to become discolored, brittle, and acidic over time and to eventually disintegrate. Exposure to light, high humidity, and atmospheric pollutants hastens this disintegration. There are steps you can take, however, to preserve a beloved newspaper and lessen damage.

The first step in preserving your newspaper is to decide whether to store it lying flat folded or unfolded. When thinking about this decision, consider two questions:

  • Will unfolding pages cause damage along the fold lines?
  • Do you have enough room to store it flat?

Some experts recommend storing it unfolded, while others maintain that it should be folded in half (the way it looks when sold). Do whatever causes the least harm.

When storing your newspapers, avoid using these damaging materials:

  • Paper clips and staples, which rust and leave a stain as they deteriorate
  • Rubber bands, which degrade and stick
  • Glue or tape, as the adhesive will eventually leave stains
  • Lamination, as the plastic will permanently damage your newsprint and is an irreversible process

Keeping newspapers and clippings in boxes will prevent exposure to dirt, dust, and light, which cause newsprint to darken and become more brittle and the ink to fade over time. The size of the box should be close to the size of the materials it contains. It should not be made of standard cardboard, which tends to be acidic. It should be acid-free, lignin-free, buffered, and have a lid the same depth as the base. Buffered means that an alkaline (non-acidic) buffer has been added to the box to neutralize the acids given off by the newsprint so that the box will last longer. Clearly label the box with the titles and dates of the contents to prevent unnecessary handling.

If saving more than one complete newspaper, have a folder for each one that is acid-free, lignin-free, and buffered. If saving several sheets or numerous clippings, you may need more than one folder because you don’t want to overstuff the folders. In addition, some experts recommend inserting an acid-free, alkaline-buffered sheet of tissue paper between each page for further protection. Keeping pages pressed together with no buffer allows acid to spread and cause further damage to them. A cheaper alternative is acid-free tissue paper with no alkaline buffer. It reduces the risk of increasing the newspaper’s acidity but doesn’t prevent the spread of acid between pages.

Store the boxes in a cool, dry, and dark place in the main part of your house where temperatures and humidity levels stay relatively stable, such as a closet, under your bed, or a file cabinet drawer. Do not place boxes near radiators or vents. Basements, garages, and attics are not suitable because they can experience drastic temperature and humidity swings. Dampness can encourage the growth of mold and attract insects. Heat accelerates the chemical process that causes newsprint to deteriorate.

Routinely check to make sure your storage area is clean and dust-free. The more stable the environment, the longer newsprint will last. Also, make sure your storage box does not include other types of materials, such as letters, photographs, or books. The acidity of newsprint can cause permanent damage and stains to other materials.

Preserving your original newspaper is great but remember that the content is more important than the object itself. To preserve the content and minimize handling of the original, make a high-resolution scan and store the images on your computer and a USB flash drive. Then you can print copies of the scanned images for everyday use and display. Regular copy/printer paper will be more chemically stable and durable and will far outlive newsprint when stored in a stable environment. If you are concerned that scanning the newspaper will cause great harm, a library or archive can help you locate a microfilm copy or digitized version of your paper.

When it comes to display, it is best to frame a copy of your scanned newspaper and not display the original because of the damage caused by sunlight and fluorescent light. If you really want to display the original, it should be framed using acid-free backing board and kept away from windows. The frame should have special glass that blocks harmful ultraviolet (UV) light.

It is important to remember that the inherent acids in newspapers will continue to break them down slowly. If you want to ensure their long-term survival, you can consult a professional paper conservator who can neutralize these harmful acids through a process called deacidification. Available conservators can be found on the American Institute for Conservation website. Keep in mind, however, that their services will likely run into the hundreds of dollars.

While there are many threats to the survival of newsprint, proper preventative measures will help it last for many years.

Below is a list of archival quality supplies:

Box for clippingsGaylord Archival Blue/Grey Barrier Board Flip-Top Document Case
Box for folded newspapersGaylord Archival Blue/Grey Barrier Board Drop-Front Deep Lid Print Box
Box for unfolded
newspapers
Gaylord Archival Tan Barrier Board Drop-Front Newspaper/Print Box
Folders for clippingsGaylord Archival Reinforced Full 1” Tab Legal Size File Folders

Gaylord Archival Reinforced Full 1” Tab Letter Size File Folders
Folders for folded or
unfolded newspapers
Gaylord Archival Oversize Newspaper File Folders
Buffered tissue paperGaylord Archival Buffered Acid-Free Tissue
Unbuffered tissue paperGaylord Archival Unbuffered Acid-Free Tissue
Frame kit for clippings or
newspapers
Gaylord Archival Simply Black Collection Wood Frame Kit with 1.25” Molding
Preservation kit for folded or
unfolded newspapers
Gaylord Archival Newspaper Preservation Kit

References

American Library Association (2015, March 3). Digitizing old newspapers. Retrieved from http://www.ala.org/alcts/preservationweek/advice/digitalnewspaper

American Library Association (2017, March 30). Storing old letters and newspaper clippings. Retrieved from http://www.ala.org/alcts/preservationweek/advice/storingpapers

Archival Methods [Screen name]. (2016, April 5). Archival solution of the week: Newspaper & magazine storage kits. Retrieved from https://www.archivalmethods.com/blog/newspaper-magazine-storage-kits/

Archival Methods [Screen name]. (2015, October 22). Preserving: Archivally storing old newspapers. Retrieved from https://www.archivalmethods.com/blog/storing-old-newspapers/

How to preserve your Obama victory newspaper. (2008, November 7). San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved from https://www.sfgate.com/

Library of Congress. (n.d.). Preservation measures for newspapers. Retrieved from http://www.loc.gov/preservation/care/newspap.html

Lockshin, N. (2012, January 12). How do I preserve my newspaper? Retrieved from https://siarchives.si.edu/what-we-do/forums/collections-care-guidelines-resources/how-do-i-preserve-my-newspaper

Northeast Document Conservation Center. (n.d.) Caring for private and family collections. Retrieved from https://www.nedcc.org/free-resources/preserving-private-and-family-collections/caring-for-private-and-family-collections

Ritzenthaler, M. L. (2016). Preserving newspaper clippings. Prologue Magazine, 48(1). Retrieved from https://www.archives.gov/publications/prologue/2016/spring/preserve-clippings.html 

Tobey, D. A. (2001). Preserving history: Here’s how to keep that historic newspaper for years to come [PDF file]. Retrieved from http://www.mnhs.org/preserve/conservation/reports/nytimes_preserving.pdf

U.S. National Archives and Records Administration. (n.d.). How can I preserve an important edition of a newspaper? Retrieved from https://www.archives.gov/preservation/holdings-maintenance/newspaper.html

For further information on aspects of preservation, here are some resources:

Library of Congress: Collections Care https://www.loc.gov/preservation/care/index.html

National Park Service: Conserve O Grams https://www.nps.gov/museum/publications/conserveogram/cons_toc.html

Northeast Document Conservation Center (NEDCC): Preservation Leaflets https://www.nedcc.org/free-resources/preservation-leaflets/overview

U.S. National Archives and Records Administration: Preservation https://www.archives.gov/preservation

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