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 vertically in file folders. Place vertically inside acid free storage boxes or steel filing cabinets.
Loose, unbound records should be stored in acid-free file folders. Folders should be placed in acid-free or low-lignin archival boxes. Alkaline storage enclosures are not advised for typographic copies, which may contain aniline dyes. Alternatively, folders may be stored in steel filing cabinets with a baked enamel finish. Care must be taken not to overfill folders and boxes. Documents should fit easily in folders and boxes, and they should not be forced into enclosures that are too small. Spacer boards (created using scored and folded acid-free board) may be placed in underfilled boxes to prevent folders from slumping or bending.
Responsible display practices ensure the long-term preservation of collections. Facsimiles should be used whenever possible. Paper artifacts should not be displayed permanently. Light levels in the exhibition area should be kept low. Appropriate filters should be used to minimize exposure to ultraviolet light. Display cases should be enclosed and sealed to protect their contents, and their items should be securely framed or matted using preservation-quality materials that have passed the Photographic Activity Test (ISO 18916:2007).
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 it is 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.
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 or 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.
The image/text side of an electrofax copy is coated with a shiny layer of finely divided white pigment (zinc oxide). The ground color (paper) is a faint gray, although sometimes it appears to have a bluish tint. From 1977 onward, the electrofax logo—a pale yellow outline of a cactus—may be on the verso. Sheets have a tendency to curl slightly. Electrofax copies will often exhibit cracking and flaking of the zinc oxide surface coating.
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.
White zinc oxide coating is also known to crack and flake from handling. The image dyes used in electrofax copies will fade from light exposure and hot, humid storage environments. In order to ensure long-term access to the information on electrofax copies, migrating (copying) to a electrostatic photocopy is recommended.
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.