Scrapbookers, or scrappers, create layouts using photographs and mementos embellished with a variety of decorative features. These are compiled into albums or scrapbooks as keepsakes, often with the hope that they will last for generations.

With this in mind, there are several issues for scrapbookers to consider:

  • archival principles – the importance of preserving the integrity of irreplaceable original documents and photographs
  • materials – how to choose materials that age best
  • storage – how to reduce the risk of damage over time.

Preserving the integrity of original materials

It is important to keep significant original documents and photographs intact to ensure that they remain unchanged for future generations. Original records can be seen as evidence of our activities and our lives. Scrapbookers interpret people and events in their own way. While this process creates a new and unique record, it is important that what happens to the original photographs and documents does not prevent others from using these materials later.

In archives practice there are several important principles that are applied to ensure that the integrity of original materials is preserved. These principles are also relevant for scrapbookers. They involve keeping original records intact and keeping evidence of provenance or where they came from. In practice this may include:

  • keeping old albums intact rather than dismantling them
  • retaining the links or connections between original records and their original context, eg keeping records in their original order and keeping old inscriptions and labels (even if the significance of these links is unclear now, they may provide clues for future generations)
  • including sources of information and dates, eg when using magazine and newspaper clippings, include the name and date of the publication
  • ensuring that the most unique and important items receive the best care but the least intervention, eg using appropriate mounting methods to prevent long-term damage to originals
  • using copies of photographs or documents in layouts rather than originals.

Choosing materials that age best

Scrapbookers can give their creations a better chance at longevity by carefully choosing the materials they use.

'Acid-free' materials

The term 'acid-free' is problematic because it can be misleading or misapplied.

With papers, it is true that acids contribute to the accelerated deterioration of paper. However, on its own, the term 'acid-free' does not guarantee that a paper will be inert or long-lasting. For example, although many papers are acid-free when they are new, if they are made from poorly purified wood pulp, or if they contain unstable dyes or other ingredients, they can become acidic over time. It is better to look for more specific information.

It can be meaningless to describe plastics, adhesives and tapes as 'acid-free' because acids are not always responsible for the ways in which these materials deteriorate. Look for specific information about the particular type of plastic.

Choosing paper materials

Rather than looking for 'acid-free' papers, scrapbookers should look for the following terms:

  • lignin-free – lignin is found naturally in wood and is the substance that causes poor-quality papers such as newspapers to yellow and become brittle. If a paper is ‘lignin-free’ it means that the wood pulp has been more highly processed to remove lignin.
  • rag, rag pulp, cotton – these terms mean that the paper is made from cotton fibres rather than wood fibres. Cotton fibres are stronger and do not contain any lignin. Papers made from cotton can last for hundreds of years.
  • buffered, alkaline buffered, alkaline reserve – these terms mean that calcium carbonate has been added to the paper. Its purpose is to neutralise any acids, either from within the paper itself or from external sources such as acidic storage enclosures.
  • archival paper, permanent paper – archival paper or permanent paper is paper that has been tested to meet specific requirements to ensure that it is chemically stable, physically strong and has the potential to last for a long time.

The National Archives has its own standard for archival paper and has developed a trademark used to identify and certify papers that meet that standard. More information on this scheme can be found in 'Archival quality' trademark.

Scrapbookers should use a paper that claims to be permanent or archival. To ensure the claim is legitimate, it should be accompanied by a reference to a standard such as AS 4003 – 1996 or ISO 9706.

Choosing plastic materials

When choosing plastics, scrapbookers should look for the following:

  • PET or polyester (brand names Mylar and Melinex) – this is the most stable and inert plastic and should last for hundreds of years. It is also the clearest and the most expensive.
  • PP or polypropylene – this is much cheaper than polyester. It is not as clear, but is inert and does last well. Copy-safe sleeves are usually made from polypropylene.
  • PE or polyethylene – this is the cheapest option, yet still inert and quite long lasting. Zip-lock bags are usually made of polyethylene.

Scrapbookers should avoid products made of polyvinyl chloride (PVC), easily recognisable because they are generally stiffer and heavier than other plastics, have a strong smell and a greasy feel. These features indicate a plastic with ingredients that will, over time, harm scrapbook pages. Plastic pockets and sleeves marketed as ‘archival quality’ are usually less likely to contain harmful ingredients. Even so, care should be exercised as there are no controls over the use of the words 'archival quality'.

Storage requirements

Choosing the right materials when creating scrapbooks will help to reduce deterioration from within, but it is also important to protect scrapbooks from external sources of deterioration. These include the materials used to store scrapbooks and memorabilia, as well as environmental conditions and potential disasters.

Digital scrapbooking

Digital scrapbooking using computer software, scanned photographs and documents is increasingly popular. Although this is a good strategy to preserve the integrity of original items, digital scrapbookers need to be aware of issues that relate to the long term-preservation of digital scrapbooks:

  • It is important to back up files onto CD or external hard drive in case of computer malfunctions. Purchase the best quality CDs possible. Do not use hard-tipped pens to label CDs. Store CDs as carefully as you would other important documents.
  • Digital files and hardware become obsolete as technology evolves. Consequently, digital files created now may not be accessible in the future unless files stored on CDs and hard drives are updated as technology progresses.