Should I laminate an old document, like a photo or birth certificate?

Generally, we no longer laminate, but prefer encapsulation with polyester (formerly Mylar D, now available as Melinex in the US) as a technique when necessary for handling and viewing as opposed to archival paper folders. This is done with an either an edge welder or ultrasonic welder which bonds the polyester to polyester, but not to the paper, which floats free between the sheets. In a lower tech environment, this also can even be done on a sewing machine using a zig zag stitch, before the object is inserted, or a blank mockup of the object can be used in its place and removed before the seal is complete on 3 sides! Double-sided tape is sometimes used, but historically there have been problems if the object is thick or heavily used, because the object can slide toward and into the tape and get stuck. To avoid this, many people now adapt this standard procedure by putting a piece of thread or a strip of paper down on the tape edge , but you can see how this gets fussy. Welded edges on two sides, called "L-sleeves" are preferred, and these can be obtained from archival supply companies, as well as ultrasonic or edge welders for larger archives who will use this process often. Another archival alternate for clear viewing and document protection would be a polyethylene pouch/sleeve, or an album page support with a safe plastic oversleeve. Many options available at office supply stores, look for ones that say polyethylene, polypropylene or polyester/Mylar/Melinex. (The ones that say “will not lift off copier toner!” or “crystal clear” or “PVC-free” may be good bet; but those could also be made of cellulose acetate - the original material for lamination which degrades in an acidic fashion; your best bet is to purchase inert safe plastics directly from an archival supplier). Encapsulation is not appropriate for all conditions or objects, such as powdery pastel or charcoal, due to polyester's static charge, or acidic objects such as newsprint. When we do put untreated acidic objects such as newspaper in an encapsulation, we always put in a sheet of buffered paper to absorb acids which can build up instead of diffuse out in a plastic envelope. Note that in a variable environment which experiences swings from cold to hot and high humidity environment, moisture can build up in such an envelope and can encourage stains or mold growth, or photographs can stick to the plastic surface causing damage. Of course, acid-free and lignin-free folders and envelopes can always be used as well, but if the desire is to be able to view the object at all times and/or handle it frequently, encapsulation remains a good option.

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