Storage Solutions for Oversized Paper Artifacts

Technical Leaflet from the Northeast Document Conservation Center

Maps, posters, large prints, and other oversized objects pose storage problems for any collection. These sheet materials can be unwieldy and vulnerable to damage, especially if they are not backed or mounted. These objects are best stored flat in map-case drawers or large covered boxes of archival quality. Inside the drawers or boxes objects should have the additional protection of folders or other suitable enclosures. Since every collection contains objects larger than the available drawers, other storage solutions must also be found.

Storage of Very Large Paper Artifacts


For objects larger than the available drawers, rolling is a common solution. It is not ideal but may be the only practical means of preventing mechanical damage. Rolling saves space and is satisfactory for materials that are flexible enough to withstand unrolling and rerolling. It is especially suitable for architectural working drawings and other items that are seldom consulted; related items can be rolled together. It is important not to roll too tightly and to support the material. Conservators recommend rolling sheet materials around the outside of a tube at least 42 in diameter. The tube should be longer than the sheers so that their edges are supported.

Low-lignin pH-neutral tubes are available from conservation suppliers. If these are not used, a barrier sheet of polyester film or buffered paper can be placed around a non-archival tube, between it and the material being stored.

Once the object is rolled on the tube, the assembly should be wrapped in archival paper or given a jacket of polyester film to protect against abrasion, dust and pollutants. The outer jacket may be secured with Velcro(TM) tabs or with ties of undyed fabric tape, white polyester ribbon, or strips of cloth. Ties should be at least 1/2″ wide. Tubes should be stored horizontally one layer deep. Shelves should be wide enough so the tubes do nor extend into the aisles. They can also be stored by inserting a pole through the tube and resting the ends of the pole on brackets. For additional protection, tubes wrapped with archival materials can be placed inside larger tubes.

A rolled folder made of 4- or 5-mil polyester film provides an alternative storage solution (see Figure 3). Rolled polyester folders, like encapsulation, reinforce and support oversized objects. As with encapsulation, acidic materials should not be placed in polyester rolls unless they rest against a sheet of buffered paper. Such folders can be made from a sheet of polyester film folded in half. The object is placed inside and the folder is rolled and secured with ties. The ties can be kept in place by feeding them through holes punched in the end of the roll. A label of archival paper can be attached to the film with double-sided tape (3M brand #415). Labels should face out and not touch the object. To help protect against exposure to light, the object itself should face in.

figure 3. Rolled polyester folder.







Many collections contain objects that have been rolled for years and are too brittle to unroll safely. If they are humidified, many of these papers will relax enough to be handled. A conservator can advise on how and when to humidify.

Rolled objects awaiting unrolling should be wrapped and stored in a single layer on shelves wide enough to support them. For better protection, the rolls may be placed inside horizontally-stored wide-diameter tubes that are somewhat longer than the rolled materials.

Please remember that storing flat is greatly preferred to rolling. The latter should be for objects too large to fit into drawers.


Folding damages paper and is not recommended. Some objects, such as newspapers, are meant to be folded once. Such sheets may remain that way but should not be folded a second time.


Vertical hanging of paper artifacts is usually not recommended. Wall maps and other objects can be stored this way if they are specifically mounted for hanging, if that mounting is secure and conservationally sound, and if the objects can be protected from light and air-born hazards. Wall maps were traditionally backed with cloth and attached to rods at the top and bottom edges. In the case of old maps, these mounts are often failing but the maps can be treated, given new backings and the protection of a polyester envelope. It is safe to store these vertically if they spend most of their time in a dark storage area. Plans for an inexpensive rack made of pipes and plumbers’ fittings are available from the Northeast Document Conservation Center.


At one time, libraries routinely cut maps into sections for easier storage. Sometimes the sections were mounted together on a single cloth, folded where cut, and put inside a cover in a book format. These interesting early examples of map preservation are found in many libraries. Today maps are never cut. Some, however, can still be sectioned. Many early materials, especially maps, are printed or drawn on two or more sheets of paper that have been joined together. In the course of treatment these sheets can be separated, treated, and kept separate. Sectioning in such cases is a radical solution but not an irreversible one. The component parts can always be placed together for viewing or permanently rejoined at a later time. Whether to section, like so many conservation issues, should be decided on an individual basis taking into account the object’s aesthetic importance, its uniqueness, its original function, the amount of handling it will receive, and the feasibility of storage alternatives such as rolling. This is essentially a curatorial issue that must be decided by the collection manager with input from the conservator.

Suggested Further Reading

Alper, Diana. “How to Flatten Folded or Rolled Paper Documents.” Conserve-O-Gram. Harpers Ferry, WV: National Park Service, 1990, 4 pp.

Rhodes, Barbara ed. “Hold Everything A Storage and Housing information Sourcebook for Libraries and Archives.” New York: Metropolitan Reference and Research Library Agency (Metro), 1990, 63 pp.

Ritzenthaler, Mary Lynn. Archives and Manuscripts Conservation: A Manual on Phvsical Care and Management. SAA Archival Fundamentals Series.
Chicago: Society of American Archivists, 1983, 144 pp.

Ritzenthaler, Mary Lynn. Preserving Archives and
Manuscripts. SAA Archival Fundamentals Series.
Chicago: Society of American Archivists, 1993, 225 pp.

MTG: 6/94
Illustrated by Margaret Brown