Log in

  • Home
  • A Practical Approach to Archival Preservation

A Practical Approach to Archival Preservation

ASDAL 18th Annual Conference
Columbia Union College
June 21, 1998

by Merlin D. Burt

This subject sometimes is difficult for and archive or library to actually apply on a day to day basis. In recent years there has been a heightened awareness of the importance of preservation. There has been a steady increase in libraries and archives that use archival quality materials for storage. Still it can be difficult to determine if one’s preservation plan is adequate or lacking in some important area.

Archival preservation falls within the scope of conservation but excludes restoration. The purpose of preservation is the protecting of the object from itself and external influences. Due to the laws of nature, preservation is always a compromise. The perfect environment for “permanent” preservation may be discussed in theory but practically it is not achievable. The compromise archival mangers or librarians make is usually a balance between cost and protection. Significant money for preservation is usually not available to libraries and archives. The purpose of this paper is to examine five practical, hopefully low cost, ways that archives and libraries can minimize deterioration of their most rare and valuable holdings without incurring significant expense. This paper is written with an eye for publication in a professional newsletter circulated to Seventh-day Adventist librarians around the world.

While many things could be discussed on the subject of preservation, for the purpose of this paper I have chosen what I believe are the five most important steps that libraries and archives can take to preserve their holdings for future research and yet avoid significant expense. I will give some pertinent commentary for each of these steps.

  1. Libraries need to do an analysis of their holdings and remove the rarer and more valuable materials from circulation.

    Libraries and archives essentially exist for the purpose of research and access. Yet as an item becomes more rare and more valuable and in many cases more fragile with age, the risk increases that it will disappear or be seriously damaged. By moving an item out of circulation and requiring that it be used in a reading room or within the library, a decision has been made about the objects permanent significance. It is no longer a disposable commodity but is seen as of long term significance. The repository must make a decision whether to allow patrons to browse through non-circulating materials or to close the stacks. If the stacks are closed it will provide more protection but will require additional staff time to retrieve items.

  2. Dedicate a restricted access area for rare or archival materials.

    Removing items from circulation and placing them in a dedicated area go hand in hand. Some libraries place their rarest items in a locked case or a special room. At the very least, a dedicated area is needed for the non-circulating materials. I strongly recommend that there be a dedicated area for storage. This will make it possible to maintain additional control over the materials and provided for their preservation. Most archives and many libraries have a closed-stacks area which is accessible only with the help of a staff person.

  3. Give some thought to environmental considerations – particularly light and humidity.

    A major advantage of having a dedicated area for special collections and rare materials is that greater environmental control is possible. Any enclosed area without natural light, with temperature and humidity control, and free from vermin will work.The archives area should be free from direct sunlight and if possible away from all natural light. Artificial light should be provided either by special UV protected florescent lighting or with regular florescent bulbs covered by UV protected sleeves. UV protective sleeves generally last for about 10 years before they should be replaced. Besides UV light, natural light and infrared (emitted by incandescent lights) are also damaging to archival materials. When the archive area is not in use the lights should be turned off. Items, which are particularly sensitive such as photographs, should be kept in folders and free from illumination except when they are in actual use.

    Archival materials as a rule need a steady low humidity environment (less than 45-50% relative humidity) that is on the cooler side (68-72 degrees F) of normal. It is recommended that the area have it’s own climate control. This will enable the archive to have climate control systems operating at all times not just during normal business hours. A hygrometer and thermometer can be purchased through most archival supply mail order companies and is helpful for monitoring the environment.

    Infestation by rodents or various insects can seriously damage archival materials. Anyone who has seen a garage where papers have be infested by spiders, silverfish, cockroaches, and rodents, know that in many cases after a fairly short time the papers are nearly destroyed. After establishing a “bug free zone” in the archives area it is important that new materials which are brought in should be inspected and treated to make sure that the rest of the collection will not be contaminated. Mold also should be removed since spores can migrate to other items.

  4. Migrate to acid-free storage materials.

  5. Avoid trying to repair or “restore” rarer materials.

Some Final Miscellaneous Considerations:

A few simple precautions regarding disaster preparedness go a long way towards protecting an archive’s collections. Here are a few thoughts.

  1. Instead of placing boxes directly on the floor, place them on palates or on shelves. This is especially important if you like in an area prone to flooding or if your collection is housed in the basement. Of course it is also a good precaution if your collection is on the bottom floor to have an automatic pumping device to remove water. Even in area’s which don’t have a risk of flooding, there is still the risk of a broken pipe or sprinkler head.
  2. If you live in an earthquake region put flexible cords, wire, or some form of protection on shelves in front of archival boxes to protect from damage.
  3. Be sure to have someone regularly checking your fire extinguishers. Also, if possible place extinguishers which are more paper friendly in your area. Halon used to be the extinguisher of choice. Its use is now being severely limited.

Copyright ©1998 Merlin Burt

Association of Seventh-day Adventist Librarians ©2024

Powered by Wild Apricot Membership Software