Thursday, April 26, 2018

Preservation Week 2018

By Carol Roberts

Salvaging or starting the process to care for family papers.

“Nobody wants these old papers.” How many times has that been said in a family or community? “I do–I do,” said the historian. So where does the process begin?

First, assess the risk. 

How much longer will the collection last? Will the collection really be thrown away? Does the next generation of family no longer want it? Is it in a barn, storage shed or attic under the leaky roof? Answer those questions, carefully assess the situation and then get permission in the family. Find the best place to work with the documents. Keep like things together or determine why things are stored together. Make as many notes as possible. Follow all the clues. For example, is there a whole packet of World War 1 letters tied in a bundle for a reason?

Second, salvage and preliminary cleaning.

Salvage begins by getting the records into a safe place, gently move them and look for the usual pests; spiders, silverfish and the like. A gentle brush can start the process. Better quality boxes can be used especially if the original storage containers crumble in handling. Books can be dusted with a low-speed variable “HEPA” filtered vacuum. Monitor the collection for moisture or mold. Are the records damp to the touch? If they feel wet or damp, then they can be air dried and monitored for improved humidity before you work with them further.

Third, begin the archival environment process.

The basic archival environment begins with the physical: constant temperature, low humidity and lighting that prevents fading. Find the best new or temporary storage location possible. Be sure that the storage will avoid water leaks and pests that love paper. Then begin the process of the using new folders and boxes.

  • Use acid-free archival quality folders to sort the materials.
  • Unfold and keep flat when possible.
  • Use the folders as support for fragile documents. Make all notes on the folder.
  • Do not use tape or adhesives. Use polyester sleeves to hold torn documents in place.
  • Do not use scrapbooks or scrapbook glue. Again, use archival acid-free folders.
  • Use soft brushes to dust the records.
  • Use only pencil around the collection. Ink pens are just a mistake waiting to happen.

Store like things together. For example, sets of letters and photographs stay together, and scrapbooks have unique boxes for better storage.

For especially damaged items consult a conservator.

Once the collection is in a new safe environment, then the historian can study all the new historical facts and stories that appear.

Read more here:

ALA Preservation week:

National Archives Family Treasures:

American Institute of Conservation:

Northeast Document Conservation Center’s Technical Leaflets:

The Tennessee State Library and Archives is a division of the Office of Tennessee Secretary of State Tre Hargett

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