IV. PRESERVING HISTORICAL RECORDS

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 You cannot wait to take the steps necessary for preserving your historical records. The persons writing the program statement should inform the governing authority of your convention, union, or body that its records should be stored in a controlled environment.

A. Choosing Space and Materials

You want space that can be kept at a constant temperature and relative humidity, preferably at a temperature below 19 degrees Celsius and a relative humidity slightly below 50 percent. You want space without ultraviolet light; you want neither windows nor fluorescent bulbs. You want space that is free of insects and rodents. You want space where there is little danger of fire, floods, or theft. You want a room you can lock.

You want shelving that is environmentally sound, preferably steel with baked enamel. You do not want wood, for it has a high acid content which will cause paper records to deteriorate. You want shelving that makes the best use of your space, taking the least room to hold the largest quantity of records.

You want containers and file folders that fit your records and are as acid-free as possible. See the Bibliography for sources of acid-free materials.

You may not get all that you want, at least not all at once. But know the ideal and strive for it. Find ways to make the best of what you have. For example if you have fluorescent lighting, cover the bulbs with ultraviolet shields. If you have wood shelving, paint it.

B. Processing

Processing is what archivists call the hands-on work of taking records from the containers in which they reached the archives, looking through them, and placing them in containers for permanent storage. You process records as you are arranging and describing them.

Processing includes taking conservation measures. You reduce the quantity of what you have to store by discarding what has no value as a historical record. Examples are copies of what is stored elsewhere, notes that cannot be read, blank paper. You remove rubber bands that will disintegrate and paper clips that will rust. You unfold folded letters. You make photocopies of newspaper clippings, keeping the photocopies and discarding the newsprint that will yellow so quickly.

Processing includes making storage decisions. For example, you would remove a three-dimensional object from paper records in order to prevent the paper from bending around the object. You would separate newspaper-size from letter-size records in order that each could be stored in the proper size container.

N.B.: Before you remove items for separate storage, include in your accession record a description of these items and where they will be stored. In addition, label these items with their accession number in order that you can easily identify their source.

Place paper records in acid-free file folders. Using the file units of your arrangement scheme, label the folders, and place them in the acid-free boxes that fit that size folder. Fill the boxes so that the papers will not bend or curl but can be removed easily. (Folders and boxes come in more than one size.)

1. NON-PAPER RECORDS

Non-paper records can be stored at the same temperature and humidity as paper but in order to make efficient use of space are best stored by format. Besides, they present unique storage problems.

Films, slides, videotapes, and all types of sound recordings ought to be stored vertically rather than stacked on top of one another. They must be kept dust free. Tapes must be kept away from any machinery or equipment that might build up a magnetic field that would erase them.

Photographs can remain in folders with paper records. Or they can be removed and stored in a photograph collection. No matter where stored, each photograph should be in a separate acid-free envelope. There are suitable plastic envelopes, but plastics with chlorine or nitrate are not suitable; they will disintegrate, destroying the photographs and other records in your archives. Each negative belongs in a separate envelope.

Do not keep negatives, however, or any film made before 1950 unless you are sure they are safe. Before 1950 a nitrate-based material that causes fires was used for most negatives and film. Safe film has the word "safety" on it. It burns slowly, melting rather than leaving ashes.

Photographs should not remain mounted or in frames. Quite often the mounting and framing materials are acidic. Wood frames are especially dangerous. Photographs may be left in albums but sheets of acid-free paper should be placed between the pages of the album. One photographic image should never touch another such image.

Some albums, like scrapbooks, are of very poor quality paper. If you receive such an album or scrapbook, you will want to remove the photographs and other items from the pages before they disintegrate. Before removing them, record the original arrangement of the album or scrapbook. Have it microfilmed, or very carefully photocopy each of its pages.

2. LISTS

You will probably find it convenient to make separate lists of these non-paper records: films, slides, videotapes, disks, audiotapes, and photographs if you choose to store them separate from records. The first film you receive becomes Film #1, the second Film #2. Many of these items then will have two separate identifications. One is the same as the paper records with which you received them. This identification tells you to which record series the item belongs. The second is the format number and tells you where the item is stored.