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How safe is “safe” – and do we care?

As the art of scrapbooking has expanded beyond merely paper and stickers into more and more texture and dimension on our pages, are we leaving the world of archival safety behind? Does it matter? Do we care?

Five years ago when I first started scrapbooking, the scrapbooking industry was all about archival safety. Creative Memories, with it’s emphasis on freedom from acid and lignin and on archival safety, was a large influence on the hobby and the number one question asked about new products was “Is it archivally safe?” In addition to paper and stickers being acid and lignin-free, plastics had to be PVC-free, inks had to have an archival life and adhesives had to be reversible.

Today, it’s a whole different story when you walk the sales floor at a scrapbook convention, as I did yesterday. Everywhere you look you see metals, fibers, ribbons, resins and epoxy, inks, paints and fabric. Scrapbookers are snapping up these new decorative accessories and using them in their scrapbooks with seeming impunity. But what about the original foundation of the scrapbooking pastime – to preserve our memories for future generations? Are all of these materials going to deteriorate in our albums and make our pages (and thus our memories) unviewable to future generations?

There is no question that some of these items, while beautiful and artistically desirable, are not the best quality from an archival standpoint. Over time, metal will rust, and fabric and fibers will break down. But I think it is possible to find a balance between enjoying exploring my art and preserving my work for future generations.

I try to follow a few rules when I create layouts that will hopefully allow most of my creations to survive as long as possible. First, I make as few of these things as possible contact with my photos and my key journaling on my layouts. This way, when they do deteriorate and rust or fall apart, they may damage decorative elements of my layout but hopefully not the critical photos or journaling. Second, where at all possible, I try to make sure that the basic elements of my pages, such as paper and inks, adhere to archival safety standards whenever possible. This way the core of the page is at least relatively stable. And I store my albums upright so that dimensional and textural items won’t be pressed against other pages by the weight of the album compressing on itself.

Using these basic guidelines, I try to find a balance between creating my art and preserving it for future generations. Because although I would like to preserve my creations for my future descendants, the bottom line is that I create today because I enjoy my art. If 150 years from now my metal eyelet rusts, I probably won’t be too concerned about it!

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