That’s the critical factor to consider when preserving, cleaning, organizing and digitizing your personal documents and photos, according to archival expert Brooke Lake.
“If you have a photo, don’t put it in a scrapbook,” says Lake, 37. “Scrapbooking is terrible. Please don’t scrapbook. Tape is bad. Glue is bad.
“Turn the object over and put the crucial context on the back in pencil. Not ink, which bleeds. Date. Place. Names of people.”
As simple as that.
Lake, who founded the Austin personal archives company Monocurate in 2021, generously shares tips that anyone looking to protect a personal legacy could use.
“Keep your papers and photos inside, preferably in an inside closet,” she says. “Away from outside windows and doors, and any light!”
Light, after all, is among the worst decay threats to anything precious on paper.
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Don’t throw things away just because you don’t know who would be interested in them.
“There will always be someone,” says Lake. “Even if it’s just one person.”
Lake uses her domestic experience with breakables as an example.
“I have three children,” she says. “I’ve been collecting all these art projects for years. What’s the point if they’re sitting in a box in the garage?”
ways to remember
Not everyone can afford an expert.
Full service Monocurate rates start at $75 per hour, after a free consultation.
However, if you discover, say, a photo album in your attic with compelling World War II images, as one of Monocurate’s clients did, and that history is important to you, their services could be the answer to your questions. prayers.
Other personal archivists conduct business throughout the state, but tend to focus on only one part of the archiving process.
“I expected women to be the main targets of my business,” says Lake. “But it has been middle-aged or older men who tried to do the job as something of a retirement project. Women are more likely to file themselves.”
Originally from Kalamazoo, Michigan, Lake followed her husband’s work in Texas in 2014. She had studied historiography at Arizona State University and library and information science at Simmons College in Boston.
At first, he experienced the sharp loss of familiars and artifacts.
“My mom died when I was 16,” he says. “It was suicide. No one wanted to deal with it. We didn’t go through her belongings. We just threw everything away and threw it away. She was 16 years old. She didn’t know what a file was.”
(If you or someone you know is in crisis, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.)
Ten years passed before she and her siblings realized they had no pictures of their mother, nothing physical to remember her by.
“We didn’t even have photos of our own childhoods,” says Lake. “It took us 20 years to track down some things, maybe a dozen between us.”
By then, Lake knew about files.
‘We need to save family history’
After working at the Texas State Library and Archives Commission in Austin, he moved to the city’s leading private practice, Carrabba Conservation, which performed high-level work cleaning and preserving artifacts for major institutions, as well as for private collectors. However, during the pandemic, founder and owner Cheryl Carrabba decided to retire, leaving Lake with nothing to do.
Instead of focusing on fixing things (preservation), Lake founded his new business on stabilization and inventory (preservation).
“Almost everything goes in Mylar,” she says. “Everything is reinforced. Everything is stabilized and repackaged.”
Along with an assistant, Lake also digitizes home movies, photos and documents.
“It’s often things that people find when they start digging in a box,” she says. “They didn’t even know it existed. Things like poetry from a deceased mother or water-damaged war memorabilia. No two collections are the same.”
Lake signs a confidentiality agreement with his clients, so family matters remain family matters. No names were shared when reporting this column.
“A person interested in genealogy received 250 letters that essentially said, ‘You’re part of my family,'” says Lake. “It’s kind of information overload, 40 years of this man’s tangible ‘Google’ before the internet.”
Lake says the process can be fun for clients and archivists.
“It’s all interesting,” she says. “It’s amazing to see what people keep and store for the future. Things that they think are important and they put in a junk drawer or a closet, but they don’t talk about it.”
Also in the digital age, there are likely to be fewer actual artifacts like these to pass on.
“As an older millennial, I’m among the last generation to have tangible documentation of my childhood,” says Lake, “what little I do have.”
Furthermore, as Texas archives and museums prove every day, family history becomes public history.
Lake: “We need to save family history.”
Michael Barnes writes about the people, places, culture, and history of Austin and Texas. He can be reached at [email protected]
Find help to preserve those photos and papers
Monocurate is a new company that can help you organize, preserve, clean, and digitize your personal files.
Where: 4413 Spicewood Springs Road
Rates: After a free consultation, rates start at $75 per hour.
Send more questions about your personnel files to [email protected] I’ll find the Texas expert for you.