How do I preserve my newspaper?

Even in this time of changing news distribution, we wrote up a Note for our Facebook page when President Obama was elected because so many people bought out city and national newspapers to preserve that historic front page banner headline. But like newspapers, we're not sure that Note will be around in future (I'm having a hard time finding it now!), so we are republishing that advice here. 

Newspapers are ephemeral objects, not meant to last past their immediate daily or weekly service lifetime. They are not usually made of high-grade materials and most have “inherent vice” or decay built into them from the very start, which is one reason for the microfilming and digitization of newspapers before the industry’s move to digital publishing.

The best thing to do is to protect the newspapers from damaging environmental influences such as continuous exposure to light, extremes of heat and moisture, and direct handling of the objects. Damage from light is cumulative and irreversible, and can cause not only fading of inks but yellowing, bleaching or darkening of paper. This is especially true for newspapers, which darken considerably under exposure to light. Newspapers are best stored in buffered materials and there are boxes sized specifically for large newspapers to allow them to be stored unfolded (the original spine crease may remain folded). Store the full original in buffered acid-free and lignin-free paper folders, or if making a clipping, mounted to an acid-free and lignin-free album page with acid-free and lignin-free photo corners of paper or Mylar.(Some people may wish to save only the front page or section, but consider saving the whole paper as it was published, because the whole paper--yes, even the shopping inserts with food prices--provides valuable context for future readers.) In this way the original is supported, surrounded by good materials and protected from light, and the object might not need to be flattened or damaged during use when opening it many years from now. Specialty papers and enclosures can be purchased from archival and library conservation suppliers, art or photo supply stores. Even a 24 x 36 sheet of uncolored buffered paper or mat board wrapped around the newspaper is helpful, and is available for under $10. Our colleagues at Duke University Libraries even made a really sweet video on how to do just this. There is also a special paper called Microchamber paper (see a description of it in this Glossary) that absorbs and traps more acid than other papers. It is available from a variety of archival suppliers in folder and box sizes made for newspapers and other formats. 

We do not recommend display of newsprint in non-museum conditions. The paper will darken and become brittle and the inks may fade. Should you wish to display any of the pages permanently, consider making display copies of the objects using a large format color copier or scanner without pressing on the document heavily or have a professional reprographics specialist image the items. Under no circumstances should the original be fed automatically through a copier or scanner, as damage could occur. Light exposure from copiers or scanners is strong, but generally the exposure is brief. A reprographics specialist can image the item through a Mylar envelope using a polarizing lens or oversize scanner/plotter so as to avoid damage through handling. Alternately, a library can help you track down a microfilm or digital image of the original to print a reproduction.

If you think you have a historic and rare American newspaper, it is worth looking up to see if has been microfilmed or digitized through the Historic American Newspapers collection 1836-1922 at the Library of Congress, or look to see if it is listed in the 1690-1922 American Newspapers Directory, available through your local library. 

Other preservation tips have been published by our colleagues at the National Archives, and also at the Library of Congress

Add comment

Log in or register to post comments