Family photos are often one of our most treasured possessions. They connect us to the past, preserve the memory of relatives no longer with us, and tell the stories of family history. With a few simple strategies, these irreplaceable images can last for generations to come.

One of the most common ways to store family photos is in albums. It might surprise you to learn that these albums, intended to keep old photos safe, can actually accelerate their deterioration. Many old photo albums have highly acidic paper pages, plastic sleeves made with chemicals that can harm photographs, or adhesives that can damage paper. If your photos are stored in the kind of albums with sticky pages and plastic sheet covers, the first step is to carefully remove them and rehouse them in archival storage. The best way to do this is by using an archivist’s spatula or simply a knife, inserted behind the photograph to very gently pry it away from the sticky page, taking care not to rip the paper. Once removed from the album, photos should be placed in polyethylene sleeves purchased from an archival supply store. The sleeves can then be stored in acid free boxes or binders. If archival storage is beyond your budget, interleaving acid free paper between the photographs will work as well.

The ideal place to store your photos is somewhere away from direct sunlight and protected from temperature and humidity fluctuations. Paper does not like heat or water, so hot attics and damp basements are the worst places to store them. Keep your photos in boxes, in a closet on the main level of your house to protect them. Since UV light can cause photographs to fade, if you plan to display your family photos, it is best to make a high quality copy and keep the original securely tucked away. If you can keep the storage space temperature at around 70 degrees and the humidity between 35-55%, your photos will be safe.

A good way to preserve and share your family photos easily is by digitizing them. Flatbed scanners are inexpensive and simple to use. You can also check with your local library to see if they have a makerspace or scanning station for public use. Once you have digital files for all of your photos, you will need a place to store them. There are many easy to use apps and cloud storage services. If you have an Amazon Prime account, included with your subscription is unlimited photo storage. And if you have a Gmail account, you can use Google Photos and store up to 15 GB of images for free. Both services have simple tools for creating online albums, sharing photos with friends, and printing services.

Another quick and easy tool for digitizing photos is the Google PhotoScan app. PhotoScan allows you to use your smartphone to quickly digitize loose photographs. It automatically corrects for skewing and glare so your images come out looking great. One thing to note: PhotoScan will not give you the high resolution scans needed for true preservation but the images will be good enough for social media and for viewing on your device.

If you have questions about historic photographs and how to preserve them, contact the Kansas Collection Librarian at alacey@kckpl.org or have a look at these library resources:


How to archive family photos : a step-by-step guide to organize and share your photos digitally / Denise May Levenick, the Family Curator

Photography And Other Media In The Nineteenth Century

Tracing Your Ancestors Through Family Photographs: A Complete Guide for Family and Local Historians, by Jayne Shrimpton

and these helpful websites:

Library of Congress

The National Archives

Anne Lacey 
Kansas Collection Librarian