Cold Storage for Photographic Media

Duke University preserves many of H. Lee Waters’ “Movies of Local People” (1936-1942).

If you have photographs and film in your collections and are able to place a refrigerator/ freezer unit in your institution, then you can consider cold storage as a preservation method. Some artifacts–such as color photographs–should be frozen, while others–such as CDs and DVDs–are better off in refrigerated storage. See table 3 of the Image Permanence Institute’s Media Storage Quick Reference  to determine the best temperature range for each material in your media collection. There is lots of good news and a little bad news about storing collections in a refrigerated unit. For more detailed information, see an article on the subject by Conservator Tim Vitale.

Good news:

Cold storage will increase the longevity of paper-based and film-based materials significantly.

More good news:

Polyethylene freezer bags will protect the object’s moisture content in a refrigerator/ freezer. Most conservators recommend double bagging. Objects should be packed within a moderate RH (30-50%) environment.

Unlike with frozen foods, the formation of ice crystals is not a concern when freezing photographic media; there is no free water in these materials.

Bad news:

Cold storage limits access to these collections. The necessary packaging and procedures will prevent collection browsing.

More bad news:

Planning is necessary for access. Objects need several hours (4-12) to warm to room temperature while still sealed in bags. The safest warming method is to transition the bagged object gradually in a Styrofoam cooler.

Solution: digitization is ideal, but expensive in terms of staff time and equipment. Check with Nick Graham at UNC’s Digital Heritage Center to determine whether your collection of photos would be eligible for these services at no cost. Another option is to xerox photographs for research purposes. Staff and other collection users can get an idea of the available images in order to target access carefully


About collectionsconversations

This blog will contain posts from the C2C project staff on a variety of topics related to collections care and disaster preparedness. Enjoy the posts and let us know if you would like additional information or have a topic you would like for us to address.

Posted on May 8, 2012, in collections access, collections care, storage and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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