This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2007, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Carrie Gonzales, 43, is a trained curator and avid scrapbooker living in Southern California. We asked Carrie about how her vocation intersects with her avocation.
Question: How long have you been scrapbooking and do you do it primarily for the family history aspect or because it is a creative outlet?
Answer: I've kept scrapbooks since high school, but have scrapped archivally for about 20 years. I do it for lots of reasons, but mainly for my own and my family's enjoyment and for the creativity of it. Family history is very important to my family - on my mother's side, we are descendants of one of the Spanish soldiers who came to California with the mission fathers - so I make sure I document my photos and stories, as well.
I always have journaling with every page, and include the dates and people and places and any other information the photos don't reveal. I'm not a "single picture with a date" kind of scrapper - there are too many stories to tell, and too many pictures to mount, and a picture with no story won't be too interesting years down the line.
Do the scrapbookers you know take preservation serious or are they primarily interested in the creative side?
I don't know a lot of scrappers personally - or "IRL" (In Real Life) as the cyber lingo goes - but from what I can tell, it seems to be about an even split between those who are concerned about preservation and those who aren't. It's interesting how many people seem to feel that these two issues - preservation and creativity - are opposed. You're either one or the other, and not both at once.
It's a little bothersome for me, since I think of myself as being very creative, able to produce "artistic" scrapbook pages, and still keep within general archival safety guidelines. Does limiting the supplies you use make you less artistic? Does having a glut of supplies make you more artistic? I'd like to see less division between scrappers as to these issues, frankly.
What is the difference between acid-free, pH neutral, photo safe and archival quality? Which is better?
"Acid-free" simply means that something isn't acidic. That doesn't mean it's photo-friendly, though. Bleach is acid-free, but is strongly alkaline, and it will damage paper and photos. "Photo-safe" and "archival quality" are semantically empty for me. There is no industry standard for either of these two terms, and no set of criteria by which the consumer can evaluate a manufacturer's claim for these terms. The only term with any objective meaning, really, is pH neutral, which means that an item (paper, chemical, adhesive, ink, etc.) is 0 on the pH scale - neither acidic, nor alkaline.
Papers that are pH neutral will, though, absorb acids from things that they are in contact with, and over time, become acidic. Papers that are slightly alkaline, often called buffered papers, are better for long-term use, if you are scrapping things that are acidic. That slight alkalinity will neutralize acids for a while, and keep your acidic memorabilia (ticket stubs, postcards, etc.) from become too brittle, too quickly.
If something is labeled "archival," or "pH neutral," I'm more inclined to reach for it, as opposed to "photo-safe." I do hesitate, though, since, with no industry standard, and no objective way to really evaluate the sales language, it's like taking a chance on a company's word. I don't know that any one term is "better" than another, but they do give some indication that companies are making an effort to produce "safe" scrapbooking items. How safe they are, though, is hard to tell, long term. I'm someone who takes everything a company tells me with a grain of salt!
Do you think scrapbookers are naive when it comes to trusting manufacturers and such labels?
Oh, sure. On the other hand, who has the time, money, or expertise to really do an objective evaluation of any company's product claims? No one, really, so we have to make a judgment call about who we are going to trust. The big companies, the ones who have been around for ages, who originally catered to the scrapbookers who wanted acid-free, lignin-free papers, are probably doing a better job of keeping their papers and other products "safe," since they have a reputation to maintain. The littler outfits? Who knows? An acid-testing pen is a good investment for anyone who is concerned about these issues. And some common sense. Everyone who is concerned about the archival suitability of any materials should do some research, ask some questions, write to, or e-mail, or call the companies and find out about their products. Most companies are happy to answer consumer questions.
Besides acidity, how concerned should scrapbookers be about patterned paper and whether it is colorfast?
Fading is really a matter of aesthetics, I think, and not so much an archival issue. To tell you the absolute truth, ANY paper that contains dyes isn't truly archival, so right off the bat, "archival" scrappers who used colored cardstock and patterned papers have left the track. The papers and tissues and cardboard used by museums to conserve and archive their objects are undyed, unbleached and plain. That's why it amuses me to hear scrappers talk about "archival safe," or "archival quality" papers, when referring to cardstock and such. Back to the issue of colorfastness, though - fading dyes aren't attractive, and can be of concern if they transfer dye to whatever is touching them. Since this is usually an issue of friction - things rubbing around - and photos mounted on papers don't usually shift around, it really isn't much of a concern - for me, anyway. I tend to stay away from the papers that are very treated, though - the shiny, the ones with glitter and metallic inks, etc. The plainer the patterned paper - just paper and ink - the better I like it. Handmade papers are troublesome for me, for the same reasons - the inks, the embedded materials (leaves, fibers, etc.), the unknown nature of the base pulp from which the paper is made. I love handmade papers, but I don't scrap with them.
What kind of adhesive do you use/recommend? What is the worst as far as long-term preservation is concerned?
I like dry adhesives - the Hermafix/Dotto temporary dots is my adhesive of choice. When I need to use a wet adhesive, I use bookbinder's glue I get from Light Impressions. It's a PVA, pH neutral glue that I've used for years to repair books and paper items. For one-of-a-kind and heritage photos, I skip the adhesives altogether and use photo corners from Canson, or cut slits in the paper to mount them without adhesives. I also fold my own corners for larger pictures or other applications, using acid-free, lignin-free papers. Memorabilia can be put into envelopes or mounted with folded corners, as well. The first rule of conservation/preservation is "don't do anything that isn't reversible." If you have to use a chemical like Un-do to pry a picture off a page, it's not a good thing.
Glues to stay away from: Rubber cement! Nasty stinky stuff that will do an immense amount of damage in a short time. Elmer's Glue-All and other white school glues - not photo safe long-term. Most adhesives marketed to scrappers are OK, but I still see people using tapes, which aren't good long-term, and glue sticks, which don't have good adhesion when the glue dries out.
What precautions do you take in purchasing supplies?
I'm a flat scrapper - mostly cardstock and papers. I stay away from metals, cardboards, anything lumpy and with unknown content (like the Jolee's stickers, handmade papers, etc.), and anything with an odor. I don't like painted things (you don't know what kind of paint was used, and given the recent problems with painted items coming out of China, I'm happy I skip the painted stuff!), and I check my ribbons for colorfastness and fiber content. Plastics are problematic, too, since many off-gas as they age (that's the main culprit with magnetic albums - the PVC plastic page covers), so I generally limit my plastics to polyester and museum-quality encapsulation materials.
How about storage?
My photos are stored in covered boxes under my bed. The big three enemies of photos are light, heat and moisture/humidity. Covered boxes keep out the light (and any pollutants in the air), and under the bed, the temperature is cool and fairly consistent. Photos shouldn't be stored near windows, heaters and air vents or in the basement or attic. The temperature in all those places fluctuates a lot, and so does the humidity. Also, my storage boxes are acid-free, because I'm such a slow scrapper, it's likely pictures will be in the boxes for a long time before I get to them. I handle my photos as little as possible, since the oils from your hands can damage the photo emulsion, but I don't go so far as to use cotton gloves.
Albums should be stored upright, on a shelf away from windows and direct sunlight. But they should be opened often and enjoyed.
Are you surprised that scrapbook stores don't sell more archival products like methyl cellulose or starch paste?
No, it's not really surprising. I don't think there's a big market for truly archival, museum-quality supplies, and there are places out there to find those, like Light Impressions, University Products and Gaylord. I think most scrappers who are concerned about preservation are happy with the "archival" quality of the usual papers and such.
The papers and albums page protectors are the most important parts of the page, and what the photos have the most contact with. As long as those are pH neutral, and not off-gassing, then the pictures will last for a long time - much longer than if they were in non-archival photo albums or sitting in a drawer in a paper envelope.
I think of it this way - if the papers I get from the scrapbook store will ensure that my photos last for the next couple of generations, then I'm happy. If I have family heirlooms that need to last for many, many generations, then THOSE are going in museum-quality boxes with truly archival tissues, etc. Pictures of our trip to the fair aren't going to be of national importance, so they aren't going to get that kind of protection.
And it seems that the scrappers who use lots of non-archivally suited materials aren't in the market for PVA glues, starch paste and methyl cellulose anyway. They want the newest metals, and plastics and chipboard shapes and gesso and paints and inks, etc., so that's what the local scrapbook store is going to stock. Basic supply and demand. If there were many, many more archival scrappers demanding a larger variety of archivally suited materials, then maybe there would be a bigger supply of such materials out there.
What dos and don'ts would you suggest to a scrapbooker who wants to create keepsakes that last for generations?
First off, make sure you have negatives or CD back-ups of every photos, and store them off-site - at a relative's house, or in a safety deposit box - somewhere away from your home, in case of a large disaster. Second, use the best quality acid-free, lignin-free papers and albums you can afford. Make sure your page protectors are polyester, polyetheylene or Mylar.
Use a good-quality adhesive, or better yet, use photo corners, and make sure you journal, journal, journal - dates, times, places, people's names, etc. Nothing like finding a box just full of pictures, and not knowing who the people are. Stay away from acidic materials, and materials that will oxidize - or rust. Metal items continue to be very popular, but they aren't going to be stable long-term, unless they are aluminum or gold - and I haven't seen any gold charms or bookplates out there yet! Store your photos away from light and heat, and high humidity.
Short of making your home climate controlled, humidity controlled, light controlled, dust- and insect-free, there isn't much more we can do at home. These are photos we're preserving for the memories they accompany - they're meant to be pulled out and enjoyed, primarily. We don't live in museum conditions, and neither do our scrapbooks. But a few basic guidelines, common sense, and good-quality materials will go a long way to keeping the photos around for generations.