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Caring for your records

This volume was stored in a plastic bag and provided a ripe meal for insects and mouldThis month, our conservators reveal some of the ways that documents can deteriorate through neglect and how to prevent this happening to your precious manuscripts.

We all treasure certain documents or photographs as heirlooms, yet the historical value of others can go unrecognised. Overlooked as being of no importance, they may simply be thrown away or left to moulder in damp basements, nibbled by insects and mice or stored for years in filthy attics and vandalised outbuildings.

BEFORE: Well-intentioned home repairs done with glue and adhesive tape can discolour paper or cause portions to of text to disappear whilst over use or mishandling can make items disintegrate completelyCaring for your records is about taking a few simple and important measures for their long-term safekeeping; and these are:

  • To provide a secure area with controlled access to prevent theft, vandalism and loss
  • To place the records in suitable climatic conditions with good air circulation, temperature and humidity control to prevent mould growth and accelerated decay
  • To control exposure to light to prevent inks and colours from fading and materials from deteriorating
  • To provide suitable and effective packaging methods to protect the records from physical damage, atmospheric pollution and light exposure when in storage
  • To provide surrogate copies if possible 

AFTER: These documents were previously repaired with contact adhesive tape.  The conservation team removed the discoloured tape and rebuilt the missing areas with specially selected archival papersThese guidelines are fundamental to anybody who has a collection in their care whether they are personal family papers and photographs or material held in libraries and museums. Remember that the care of records is the responsibility of all those who use them, work with them, or simply enjoy looking at them.

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