To make sure archives last as long as they possibly can so they can be accessed by users for generations to come, they need to be preserved in optimum conditions and actively looked after. Many institutions hire conservators, who are professionals very highly trained in the conservation of records. For more information on conservators, see the Institute of Conservation website
Where it is not possible to work with a conservator, there are a range of basic tasks which can be carried out to help preserve the collections in your care. A range of basic equipment can be purchased to help with this. The information below provides guidance on basic measures which can be taken to make sure your documents stay in optimum condition. For complex document treatment or any issues you are unsure how to tackle, we recommend contacting a qualified conservator through ICON.
Where possible archives should be stored in temperature controlled store rooms kept stable between 15 – 17 degrees. Ideally store rooms will have no windows and will be kept dark when not in use. The records should be stored in acid free containers and easy to access.
Below you’ll find a list if equipment you can use to care for your collections. You can purchase these items online in a range of conservation supply stores.
Smoke sponges are used to clean documents which have dust or dirt on them. Gentle cleaning in this way takes off surface layers of dust making the document cleaner and easier to read.
All metal clips and fastenings should be removed from documents to prevent rust damage and discolouration. These staple removers allow staples and fastenings to be removed with minimal damage to the records.
Once metal fastenings have been removed, larger bundles of papers should be tied together using acid free archive tape.
Smaller bundles of papers can be secured with brass paperclips which do not rust and will not damage the record.
Gloves should only be used to handle photographs, negatives and transparencies. Well washed hands are fine for all other records and documents.
If you need to write reference numbers on records, a 2B pencil should be used in a non conspicuous place to ensure the pencil marks can be removed in future if needed.
Conservation of records is a very skilled job and the above should only be attempted where you are sure there is no risk of record damage, If in doubt, always seek the help of a conservator. The image below is just one example of the repair work carried out by conservators every day.
The resource toolkit on the ArchI’ve Created page contains resources which relate to the ArchI’ve Preserved and Conserved campaign. These resources allow conservators to join in with explore your archive and advocate for the work they do with archives.