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.
Housing for loose, unbound records is dependent on paper condition. Paper in good condition should be stored in acid-free file folders placed in acid-free or lignin-free archival boxes. 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 or break. 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.
Carbon copies are usually on crisp, semi-translucent paper. This tissue paper may either be made of durable rag-stock ("onionskin") or a low-grade wood pulp (manifold paper). The paper is typically a white or canary color, with an uncoated, sometimes cockled surface. Manifold copy papers are composed of a low-grade wood pulp, which is very thin and weak and which should be assumed acidic.
"Onionskin" paper is a lightweight, durable tissue that is characterized by its white or canary color, tactile crispness, and translucent onionskin appearance. Historically, onionskin is produced from cotton rag-stock, but it may contain wood pulp. The surface texture may be coated or uncoated with a cockled quality. Onionskin has been used primarily in office typing duplication.
Thin papers made up of short, overbeaten fibers (e.g. natural tracing paper, imitation parchment) and those treated with acid (e.g. vegetable parchment) tend to be more fragile than other such papers. Early forms of prepared tracing papers may emit noticeable odors or transfer oils onto adjacent materials. Interleave these with unbuffered, acid-free sheets in order to prevent oils or resins from spreading. On the whole, however, tracing papers must be handled with care, especially when brittle and/or discolored.
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. Quality of the paper support will weigh heavily in permanence. Residual acidic chemicals on the paper could accelerate breakdown.
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.
Black ink carbon copies (carbon black pigment) are at low risk for fading due to the stability of carbon pigment. There is often an inherent 'fuzziness' to the text due to the nature of impact copy processes. Color ink (aniline dye-based) copies are at a higher risk but are still rather stable.
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.