Conservators advise taking precautions when saving memories on newsprint THE LAST OF THE EVENING SUN

September 15, 1995|By Frank D. Roylance | Frank D. Roylance,Sun Staff Writer

Cal breaks Gehrig's record. The Evening Sun closes. The pope comes to town.

It's turning out to be a historic few weeks in Crabtown, and Marylanders have saved, or will be looking for, thousands of extra copies of The Sun and Evening Sun in the hope of preserving the moment for their children or grandchildren.

Trouble is, newsprint is made to be read and then recycled, or spread under the cat box. It's not crafted to last very long. And, unless readers take precautions, it won't.

The big problem is chemistry, says Martha H. Jackson, book and paper conservator for the Milton S. Eisenhower Library at the Johns Hopkins University.

"It is the acid level of the paper that makes it degrade," she said. Acid in the wood pulp used to make newsprint slowly breaks down the wood fibers. In time -- quite fast if it's exposed to sunlight -- the chemical reaction turns the paper yellow or brown and brittle.

"We neutralize our paper with two chemicals that most people cannot use at home," Ms. Jackson said.

But there are things you can do to slow the inevitable deterioration, and to limit the damage from temperature, humidity, bugs and microbes, according to Ms. Jackson and Karen Garlick, a deputy assistant director for collections management at the National Museum of American History in Washington. Here are their recommendations:

* Store papers as flat as possible. Folds tend to break down first.

* Place them in acid-free, or acid-neutral paper or a quality folder, available in art supply stores. Avoid plastic, which produces gases that will make the paper brittle.

* Keep them in a stable environment. Temperatures of 68 to 70 degrees and relative humidity between 50 percent and 70 percent are best. Practical translation: "The lowest temperature possible with some humidity, but not like Baltimore outside in the summer," Ms. Jackson said.

* Avoid attics (too hot and dry), and basements (too damp and vulnerable to mold and insects).

* Store papers out of the light.

* Check periodically for damage. Handle papers carefully with clean hands. If they tear, don't use tape.

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