how do you archive important letters and paper documents?
December 24, 2005 12:56 PM   Subscribe

How do folks handle archiving paper documents like personal correspondence (the snail mail kind), journals and the like? I have about 17 years worth of stuff and am trying to conceptualize of some sort of project to be able to look back on different years at a glance. BTW, it's not like I'm one of the Collyer brothers--all told, we're probably talking about 4 boxes of letters and such that I've saved over the years. I was thinking of organizing something chronological, using something like magazine files but I'm curious to hear how other folks organize and archive their stuff. Special bonus question--what about electronic documents, like emails and things you write? I know, I could store them online forever, but what's neat about old fashioned paper is that the reader and the information are self contained. Do you print things out, and again, if so, do you have any tricks for storing them?
posted by teddyb109 to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (9 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Ahhh....You definitely need to read this book:
The most comprehensive book on preserving every type of collectible -- from the sentimental to the valuable -- from the Smithsonian's Senior Conservator.

For both the serious collector and the sometimes sentimentalist, Saving Stuff explains -- in plain language -- how you can use the techniques of museum professionals to keep your prized possessions in mint condition.

You do not need deep pockets or oodles of time: using Don Williams's simple instructions, you can preserve anything quickly and inexpensively. In Saving Stuff, he demystifies preservation and presents easy, foolproof methods anyone can use to save nearly everything, including:

* Photographs -- in print and digital form

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* Family heirlooms -- from silver to rugs to wedding dresses

* Sports and political memorabilia -- trading cards, posters, equipment, buttons, stickers

* Attic leftovers -- scrapbooks, military uniforms, medals

* Musical instruments

* Fine art -- oil paintings, etchings, lithographs

* Printed matter -- comic books, magazines, old letters

* And much, much more

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posted by Independent Scholarship at 1:05 PM on December 24, 2005

The Visioneer Paperport scanners used to be awesome for this. Just feed it through the roller (no big flatbed taking up desk space) and it would pipe it through to a folder or an application of your choice. The company has been bought a few times, I think now, and they only ever put out one color product, which met with mixed reviews. But it's work looking. Digital keepsakes take up less space :)
posted by scarabic at 1:36 PM on December 24, 2005

I take it back, it looks like they have several color scanners. But the hardware and the software appear to have been spun off from each other.
posted by scarabic at 1:40 PM on December 24, 2005

I take it back, it looks like they have several color scanners. But the hardware and the software appear to have been spun off from each other.

So, scarabic, are you recommending the Paperport, then? Or are you remaining skeptical? (And, I presume the software is PC-only?)
posted by Handcoding at 2:11 PM on December 24, 2005

Ziploc bags might be your first line of defense.

I've heard about new bigger ones.
posted by StickyCarpet at 2:44 PM on December 24, 2005

You wouldn't want Ziploc per se; you'd want a plastic that doesn't outgas and eat paper.

And keep everything out of direct light.
posted by joeclark at 5:03 PM on December 24, 2005

Perhaps the Noguchi Filing System would meet your needs.
posted by HiddenInput at 8:28 AM on December 25, 2005 [1 favorite]

If you want to access these 5 - 10 - 20+ years down the road, do not go digital. Between unknown life spans of different digital storage devices, formats going out of style, and needing the software to read the digital docs, there are too many variables to depend on a digital format for long term storage. Next to microfilm, paper is your best bet.

You did not mention your budget, but put your paper items (chronological order) in these and these, store them in a dark relatively temperature controlled place (not attic, garage, or basement) and they will be around for hundreds of years, viewable with a human eyeball.

Print out the emails and do the same, but do some googling on what type of printer or ink is best. Couple links for digital photo printouts here and here.

Also check our National Archives link here.

Yeah, this takes up more room. But usually for an individual it shouldn't be that much of an issue. Here is a good overview of some of the problems associated with preserving digital records. I hope this was helpful.
posted by marxchivist at 12:11 PM on December 25, 2005

Response by poster: Wow! Thanks everyone, these are great suggestions and very helpful. I think that I am going to wind up getting a copy of Saving Stuff. The pages suggested by Marxchivist at National Archives are excellent. As for preserving the text of emails and of things I've written, I'm going to compile them into a few documents and have print and bind them--this solution only works for texts--at $12 for 400 pages (perfect bound) this seems like a great option. The other option that crossed my mind was scanning the letters and then uploading them into Flickr, but the scanning/uploading seems daunting, and while I am a flickr fan, I'm not sure about where they'll be in 100 years.

Thanks for helping preserve the memories and introduce me to new options like Noguchi and Paperport.
posted by teddyb109 at 4:04 AM on December 26, 2005

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