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               June, 2012

      Charles Hansen, Editor
      Laura Cosgrove Lorenzana, Guest Contributor
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  Is it OK for me to store my material
  in a metal file cabinet?

  — Laura Cosgrove Lorenzana

I am a Consulting Archivist, Genealogist, and writer. I took a short trip in 2000 to the Louvre Museum in Paris that changed the direction of my life and lead me to the University of Illinois at Chicago where I earned a BA in Art History with a Certificate in Museum Studies. Since 2006, I've worked as a Consulting Archivist in a wide variety of Archives from Shure, Inc. to the Union League Club of Chicago. It was there that my interest in genealogy was resurrected as I assisted researchers in their efforts to locate information about their relatives in the ULCC's collection.

Someone recently asked me the question, "Is it OK for me to store my material in metal file cabinet?" The greatest threat to the material we, as family historians and genealogists, have is the environment in which it is kept. My answer was this: it's not (necessarily) the metal cabinet that's the problem, it's what the material is in inside the cabinet that is most likely a stronger threat. Those wonderful green Pendaflex folders that no filing cabinet can live without are most definitely NOT what you want to be storing anything of historic value in. They may be fine for temporary use, but protecting and preserving material is really all about chemistry. So, the dye and adhesive used in those folders emit gases that seep into surrounding material, slowly degrading and decomposing it. Plastic simply compounds this problem. I've seen people wrap books, journals, and scrapbooks in plastic bags to 'protect' them. Trouble is, again, the bag emits gases that assist in the decomposition of the paper.

What's the solution? Acid free storage. Whether it's folders or boxes, acid free storage mitigates the chemical decomposition of paper caused by other materials. You may have seen paper termed 'buffered' in archival supply catalogs or websites. The buffering agent added to the paper material neutralizes the acid in lower quality paper that speeds its decomposition. By separating papers of differing qualities, and putting pieces of buffered paper in between sheets of highly acidic paper, such as newspaper, they become more stable and thus survive longer. If you don't have a choice but to use a metal file cabinet, remove the infrastructure for hanging folders and store the acid free folders upright. If it doesn't have a clamp for holding things in place, a metal or glass bookend works wonders to hold the folders upright.

We don't live in a perfect world. However, there are plenty of small steps that you can take to make your genealogical collection more stable. If you have any questions, please don't hesitate to contact me at, on Twitter, or on Facebook.

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