Archival Preservation and Conservation

Margot Note

Margot Note

August 28, 2023

Preservation and conservation are critical components of archival management. 

These practices ensure the long-term survival and accessibility of archival materials, preserving their rich legacy. 

Preservation and conservation are fundamental pillars of archival management, playing a vital role in safeguarding the enduring legacy of archival materials. These practices are indispensable in ensuring the long-term survival and accessibility of valuable records. Preservation encompasses a range of preventive measures, such as proper storage conditions, temperature and humidity control, and protection from light and pests, all aimed at minimizing deterioration and damage. Conversely, conservation focuses on remedial actions and treatments to repair, stabilize, and restore damaged or deteriorated materials. Together, preservation and conservation efforts prolong the lifespan of archival materials, allowing future generations to explore and study the wealth of information and insights contained within these historical treasures. By prioritizing the preservation and conservation of archival materials, archivists uphold their responsibility as custodians of cultural heritage, ensuring that stories and knowledge remain accessible and appreciated for years.

Preserving and Protecting

Archives preserve and protect historical documents, photographs, manuscripts, audiovisual recordings, and other significant materials. These materials provide insight into the past and serve as invaluable research, education, and cultural understanding resources. Without proper preservation and conservation measures, these materials can deteriorate, become inaccessible, or even be lost forever.

Preservation Practices 

Preservation focuses on preventing damage and slowing the natural decay of archival materials. It encompasses various activities and strategies that address environmental factors, handling practices, and storage conditions. Controlling temperature and humidity levels in archival spaces is crucial to ensure the stability and longevity of the materials. High temperatures and fluctuations in humidity can accelerate chemical reactions and physical degradation. Therefore, archives must maintain stable and controlled environments, ideally with a temperature around 20°C (68°F) and relative humidity between 30% and 50%.

Another critical aspect of preservation is the proper handling of archival materials. Archivists and researchers should be trained in appropriate handling techniques to minimize physical damage. Materials should be handled with clean hands or gloves, depending on their fragility and sensitivity. Gentle handling and support of vulnerable areas, such as brittle paper edges or delicate bindings, are essential to prevent tears, creases, or other physical harm.

Storage conditions play a significant role in the preservation of archival materials. Acid-free boxes, folders, and envelopes should protect items from direct light, dust, and pollutants. Proper housing prevents exposure to harmful agents, such as acidic materials or pests that can accelerate deterioration. Archival storage should be well-organized, ensuring that materials are stored upright, in acid-free containers, and with appropriate support to prevent slumping or distortion.

Conservation Practices

Conversely, conservation focuses on repairing, stabilizing, and restoring damaged or deteriorated materials. It involves specialized interventions carried out by trained conservators. Conservation treatments can range from minor repairs, such as mending tears or reinforcing loose bindings, to complex processes like deacidification or digitization.

Archival institutions should establish partnerships with professional conservators who possess the necessary expertise to address the specific conservation needs of their collections. Conservators employ deacidification, surface cleaning, stabilization, and rehousing techniques to protect and repair materials. It is important to note that conservation treatments should always prioritize preserving the original materials and respecting their historical integrity.

Digital Preservation 

Digital preservation is another significant aspect of modern archival practices. With the proliferation of digital materials, archivists must ensure the long-term accessibility and authenticity of born-digital records. Digital preservation involves strategies to mitigate the risks of data loss, format obsolescence, and technological changes. Archives must implement robust digital preservation systems and practices, including regular data backups, metadata management, and migration to new file formats.

Long-term Accessibility

Preservation and conservation are essential components of archival management. These practices safeguard archives’ invaluable materials, ensuring their long-term survival and accessibility. Through proper preservation strategies, archives can mitigate the risks of deterioration and damage, maintaining the integrity of the materials for future generations. Conservation interventions, carried out by trained professionals, address specific repair and stabilization needs, enhancing the physical condition of damaged items. With the advent of digital records, archives must also embrace digital preservation strategies to safeguard born-digital materials. By prioritizing preservation and conservation, archives fulfill their mission to preserve and provide access to our collective cultural heritage, enriching our understanding of the past and shaping the future.

Margot Note

Margot Note

Margot Note, archivist, consultant, and Lucidea Press author is a regular blogger, and popular webinar presenter for Lucidea, provider of ArchivEra, archival collections management software for today’s challenges and tomorrow’s opportunities. Read more of Margot’s posts here.

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