Generally, handling and use heightens the risk of damage to your materials, be it through neglectful handling (e.g. touching photo emulsion with bare hands) or irresponsible operation of access equipment. This is a risk posed by patrons and staff alike, intentional or not.
One of the easiest areas to implement protections for collections is through careful handling and sensible collections care. The unfettered use and handling of materials heightens the general risk of damage--be it through neglectful handling (e.g. touching photo emulsion with bare hands) or irresponsible operation of access equipment. Whether intentional or not, this is a risk posed by patrons and staff alike.
Examples of neglect, mishandling, and mismanagement include:
The use of additional copies for reference or display purposes is highly recommended, particularly if the item is an original or valuable. This provides broader access to the content while also protecting the original document from user wear and tear or environmental factors.
Recommendations for care of original object:
To learn more about best practices for use and access, including resources for creating digital surrogates, see Use & Access in the User-Manual.
Store flat. If space for flat storage is not available, it may be acceptable to store the prints rolled. Brittle or otherwise fragile prints should not be rolled. Prints that are strong and flexible enough to be rolled must have an interior support, which should be a neutral pH cardboard tube (over 3" diameter) wrapped in polyester or neutral paper. The rolled print and interior support may be wrapped in the neutral paper or polyester, and they should be stored horizontally, not upright. Prints should not be folded; this will create fold lines that stress the paper fibers and cause it to tear. All storage materials should pass the Photographic Activity Test (PAT) as specified in ISO Standard 18916:2007.
Technical prints were generally not made with long-term stability in mind; most were created quickly and cheaply to serve an ephemeral, utilitarian purpose. Many of these prints will retain chemical residues from processing. These residual chemicals may off-gas or cause damage if placed in contact with other prints.
Prints are usually large; they should be stored horizontally in flat files or rolled if flat storage is not possible. Enameled steel, stainless steel, or anodized aluminum flat files are preferred for storage equipment. Store different types of architectural prints separately in order to prevent contact degradation. Alkaline storage enclosures are not advised for ferro-gallic prints. Folders cut to drawer size are recommended, with less than 12 prints to a folder and with interleaving sheets placed between them (both neutral pH). Individual prints should be stored in polyester sleeves within folders in order to protect particularly fragile items and to separate formats from one another. Polyester sleeves also provide additional support during handling.
If your item has any kind of labeling on the container, the item itself, or any related material, we highly recommend that you return to the Basic Info section and enter this information in the appropriate field(s).
Labeling on a container or on the item itself, if it is in fact correct, can offer important clues about its content. If you are replacing a container that holds labeling information, it is important to transfer this information to the new container or label. Be sure to copy down any titles, dates, or other data found on these items; and, save your notes. Container labels should be used with caution as they are frequently reused or easily switched by accident.
For sleeves and folders especially, remember that it's generally best to label with a no. 2 pencil. If ink must be used (i.e. on a plastic enclosure), use an archival pigment-ink pen (e.g. Micron).
Regardless of its acidity and inherent vice, all paper is susceptible to tearing and other forms of mechanical damage. Water exposure can affect the structural integrity of paper, leading to desiccated or brittle paper, which is more easily torn and damaged through handling. If paper has been folded, creased areas will be especially vulnerable to tearing.
Unbound paper may be damaged by fasteners like paper clips, and they are especially at risk during removal of fasteners. Metal fasteners that are not stainless steel will eventually corrode, and plastic fasteners may cause warping. For information on the correct removal of fasteners, consult the NEDCC leaflet on the Removal of Damaging Fasteners from Historic Documents.
Exposure to air pollutants is a significant threat to silver images; and, warm, humid environments will accelerate these destructive effects.
When evaluating the impact of damage on visual information, look for mechanical damage as well as deterioration and decay that obscures or limits access to information. This could include yellowing and embrittlement, both types of damage especially symptomatic of newsprint and other wood pulp papers. Damage could also include fading, darkening, warping, cockling, blocking (especially of coated papers), tearing, mold, and insect infestation.
Pests like insects and rodents tend to like paper and textile materials. High humidity (higher than 68% RH) promotes mold growth and insect infestation, both of which can cause permanent damage. When assessing the exposure of your collections to pests, it is necessary to look not just at the materials themselves and their containers, but also to look at the larger environment. Insects and rodents tend to leave droppings in areas they inhabit. Insects tend to leave behind a substance called frass, which is the undigested fibers from paper. If you see droppings and/or frass in the storage area, it is a strong sign that your materials are being exposed to pests. Small, irregular holes on paper-based enclosures are also a sign that pests have attacked your materials.
Some tips for reducing your materials' exposure to pests are to refrain from eating anywhere near your collections materials. Crumbs draw pests, so keep food far away from your collections. Another tip applying to both pests and mold is to be cautious about donated materials when you receive them. Pests and mold can hitch a ride into your facility on these materials, so having a good, clean staging area where you can inspect donated items for, among other things, pest and mold evidence can help you reduce your storage environments' exposure to both.
Wash-off prints may be found on drafting cloth, vellum paper, or plastic. Although the full array of plastic support materials used is not definitively known, polyester film was the primary plastic base. Regardless of the support material, high temperatures and high humid environments should be avoided.
Drafting cloth support (and ground) may discolor or stain over time. Prints made on plastic support may become brittle or yellowed depending on the type of plastic. Most documentation suggests polyester supports were used to make wash-off prints, which is inert and so will not exhibit these deteriorative characteristics.
Wash-off prints are sometimes found on vellum paper supports. Vellum paper is a synthetic paper product made from plasticized wood pulp or cotton fibers, and should be treated in a similar manner to drafting paper. For more information, see the Collection ID Guide profile for Vellum Paper.
Paper is sensitive to light and water exposure, high humidity, and high heat. Exposure to light and/or heat will accelerate deterioration in the form of yellowing and sometimes embrittlement.
Acidic paper (pH below 7.0) commonly exhibits both deteriorative traits. Colored media on the paper support will fade rapidly. Water exposure can ultimately lead to desiccated or brittle paper, making it more easily torn or damaged through handling. Fluctuating temperature and RH may result in warping or cockling of the paper surface. High humidity (higher than 68% RH) promotes mold growth and insect infestation, both of which can cause permanent damage.
Even pH neutral papers will become increasingly acidic over time. This is due to the fact that cellulose naturally generates acids as it ages. Papers, including book leaves, that are darker and more brittle along their edges than center demonstrate an absorption of airborne pollutants that have formed acids.
Soil and dust may become ground into paper fibers, permanently soiling or staining the paper surface. Foxing is a common form of paper deterioration, which manifests as reddish-brown spots or blotches that appear embedded in the paper surface. Foxing is caused by a number of factors, but it is commonly spurred along by high humidity.
Preservation factors of a wash-off print are similar to those of a silver gelatin print (see profiles for Photographic Prints). Wash-off prints may become oxidized and cause the black image to turn warm brown or yellow. The black lines may also exhibit silver mirroring. Drafting cloth support (and ground) may discolor or stain over time. Prints made on plastic support may become brittle or yellowed, depending on the type of plastic. Most documentation suggests polyester supports were used to make wash-off prints, which will not exhibit these deteriorative characteristics.
Characteristics of ink and other media vary depending on their composition and method of formulation. As such, the stability of media has a long-term effect on its paper support, and vice versa. It should be assumed that all media has potential to fade under extreme light exposure and that ink will bleed or transfer if exposed to moisture.
For assistance evaluating symptoms of media deterioration, see Common Types of Media.