Vintage scrapbooks in your family papers can be one of the most charming and evocative kinds of records passed down from one generation to the next. But archivists tread carefully around scrapbooks because they present a number of preservation challenges.

Scrapbooks sold commercially in the past usually used very cheap and highly acidic paper for a foundation. And scrapbooks by nature have a lot of glue – also very acidic – used to add items to pages. The bindings tend to fail and that makes the book unstable. And some of those mementos, especially organic items like flowers, can present additional preservation challenges.

The New York Times recently had an excellent article about preserving scrapbooks in the papers of famous people.

Save America’s Treasures has given $170,000 to Emory University’s Manuscript, Archives and Rare Book Library in Atlanta to conserve three dozen scrapbooks made by African-Americans. They commemorate the lives of freed slaves, sorority members and celebrities, including the author Alice Walker and the vaudeville star Flournoy Miller. The tightly packed mementos include military patches as well as pencils for signing girls’ dance cards.

When an item has fallen off and ended up shuffled around, members of the Emory staff study the glue stains on the back to see if any empty page in the book carries a matching ghostly outline. “It’s a map of where it went,” said Kim Norman, the library’s scrapbook conservator.

So what can you do with your family scrapbooks when you don’t have thousands of grant dollars or a professional conservation lab available?

The three most important things to care for your family scrapbooks are:

1. Scan or photograph the pages to create a digital surrogate,

2. Store the originals flat in an acid-free container in a stable environment away from light, and

3. Use acid-free tissue paper to interleave between the pages to prevent further migration of acid.

For more information on preserving family records, click here.