Should I remove my photographs from old albums, such as black paper albums or self-stick albums?

Don't rush to remove photographs from albums just because you think the album is not "archival". Many older albums with black, gray or colored paper actually may not be harming your photographs while removal may cause immediate damage that is not easily repaired! In addition, older family heirloom albums frequently have valuable inscriptions and a character all their own that would be lost by replacement with a modern album. People sometimes erroneously assume that damage they see is caused by the paper when in fact the damage occurred years ago. For example, stains and fading (especially on black-and-white photos) can be the result of poor processing by the photographer or the glues originally used to spot adhere the photos to the pages. Very little can be done to reverse the damage in these situations. However, some album page papers, even different types of photos or poorly processed photos, or previous tape mends which are in contact with photos on adjacent pages, may be contributing to fading or staining. One simple solution is to interleave those pages with these problems using high quality paper or plastic sheets to isolate each page from its neighbor. Care should be taken so that the album doesn't become overstuffed with the interleaving, possibly breaking the binding. If the photos really are deteriorating and you choose to have the album disassembled to ensure their preservation, photocopies in color or black-and-white can be made of each page to capture the look and feel of the original, preserve all inscriptions, and keep a record of the order in the album.

As mentioned above, removing photos from old self-stick album pages that have dried up, especially when the plastic cover sheet no longer sticks to the page and the page has discolored, may be easy--frequently the photo just falls off! However, removing photos from pages that are in the extremely tacky stage can cause permanent damage. This treatment, especially for those photos that are very important to you, is best left to trained conservators. Photographs which were recently attached to self-stick album pages usually can be removed easily within a year or two by inserting a thin knife under the edge of the photo and gently separating the photo from the page. Never curl or peel back a photo from a self-stick page as the photo may be permanently cracked and curled in the process.

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The U.S. National Archives and Records Administration
1-86-NARA-NARA or 1-866-272-6272