Caring for collections helps to preserve them for future generations. When you understand how storage materials, the general environment and handling affect archival collections, you can take sensible steps to minimise their gradual deterioration and reduce the likelihood of accidental damage.
Archives have lots of enemies: the acid inherent in modern paper, light, dampness, dryness, heat, and pollution, the risks of flooding or fire, and damage from water used to put out a fire. The biggest enemy of archives is people: our use of archives results in gradual deterioration through wear and tear, and we can damage archives by handling them badly.
We can’t completely stop the process of decay of documents but we can delay this by using good storage materials which protect the documents from pollutants and external acids. Learning how to handle archives better will help to preserve them.
Read on to find out how to care for your collections. As you do this, consider writing a Collections Care Plan. This will help you identify what you currently do, what you can start to do cheaply and quickly, and what will need funding. You can download an outline Collections Care plan by clicking here, with suggestions about what to put in it depending on your circumstances and needs.
Click on the sections below to find more information on each topic.
Forde, Helen & Jonathan Rhys-Lewis, Preserving Archives 2nd edition (London: Facet Publishing, 2014)
Greenfield, Jane The Care of Fine Books 2nd edition (New York: Skyhorse Publishing, 2014)
Sandwith, Hermione, The National Trust Manual of Housekeeping (London: Viking & The National Trust, 1991)
The National Trust, Manual of housekeeping : the care of collections in historic houses open to the public. Revised edition (Amsterdam & London: Butterworth Heinemann, 2011)
Thomson, Garry, The Museum Environment, 2nd edition (Routledge, 2018)
Wilhem, Henry, The Permanence and Care of Color Photographs: traditional and digital color prints, color negatives, slides, and motion pictures (Grinnell, Iowa: Preservation Publishing Company, 1993)
British Library Preservation Guides. These downloadable pdf guides include basic preservation, cleaning books and documents, funding for preservation and conservation, using library and archive collections, preservation of photographic materials and many more.
The National Archives Preservation Blog. A regular series of blogs with useful information about handling and protecting archives. Look for blogs about when not to wear gloves!
Canadian Conservation Institute (CCI) Notes. Look for the Notes on Paper and books (N11) which include storage, removing paper from frames, basic care of books and display methods for books.
Collections Care Plans
To download our customisable Outline Collections Care Plan, click here.
Collections Care Plan Examples
If you are starting to write a collections care plan, you can look at these examples for inspiration and guidance:
Caring for Community Archives
Caring for Community Archives: Caring for Photographs