This question has popped up a few times over the years and I haven’t addressed it directly in a post. I use a lot of ephemera in my scrapbooks. Ephemera isn’t acid or lignin free or “archival.” I get questions about if I pre-treat these items or why even include them in the first place.
The short answer: because I value the ephemera more, everything’s a tradeoff, nothing is really totally archival anyway, and all paper will eventually deteriorate.
The Long Answer
I’m presently in graduate school training to be an archivist. I’ve taken several classes on collecting information, organizing it, and on the preservation of paper and other materials. You can read several posts sharing what I’ve learned along the way and how it relates to the everyday scrapbooker here.
Does my future degree make me more qualified to speak on this subject? I don’t think so but I believe it’s given me some valuable perspective about what I do at home.
The first lesson I learned in my first class in graduate school was that everything has a tradeoff. If you organize information in a more detailed way, you trade off the time it takes you to do that. If you do less organization, you trade off the time you spend to find something later.
Whether or not I include non-archival items is a tradeoff. I believe the value of having the items in the scrapbook outweighs their eventual deterioration. I want to see the articles about my husband’s water polo coach. I want my kids to see newspapers from 9/11.
All paper will deteriorate eventually.* It’s a bit sobering. I’m not under some delusion that my scrapbooks will end up in an archive somewhere. If I get to show them to my kids and grandkids, I’m cool with that. If something happens to them after I’m gone, I won’t be around to know about it.
Archivists make tradeoffs every single day. I’ve visited many archives and archivists over the last few years. Archives aren’t beacons of perfection. Archivists every day have to make the best decisions they can using the resources they have. It’s a good lesson for the scrapbooker: it can’t be perfect.
Why don’t I pre treat non-archival items? Two reasons. First, an archivist would put the newspaper in the best environment to keep it safe but not actually change it. I’m also not convinced that stuff actually works. Second, I’m lazy and don’t feel like it’s worth the time. I’ve seen 50+ year old scrapbooks full of newspapers on my tours through archives and they are holding up pretty well. If mine make it 50 years, I’ll be happy.
Do you have to take the same route as me? Not at all. Do what makes you feel comfortable. However, I hope this helps with perspective. Do you still worry about non-archival items in your scrapbook? Please share below.
*Digital media deteriorates much much faster than paper, so scrapbooks are still preferable. Read more detail about the deterioration of paper and media here.