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Preserving Standard-Size Documents

How to Preserve Standard-Size Documents

Documents contain important clues to the history of a region, an organization, a family or an individual. Protecting and preserving these documents is the responsibility of each generation.

Before examining any document or other paper artifact, take a moment for proper hand care. Hands can transfer dirt, fingerprints, oils and other contaminants to a document's surface, so first wash and dry your hands thoroughly. Do not use hand lotions or creams. If wearing gloves, be aware that you may lose some dexterity and may not be able to pick up or hold the paper safely. Do not hold any other object, such as a pencil, at the same time as you are holding the artifact. Check your hands regularly for any transfer of dust or dirt during the examination process.

When possible, remove any extraneous materials that might damage the documents, such as paper clips, rubber bands, wrapping materials and other fasteners. If the materials are relevant to the collection (such as pressed flowers), place them in separate enclosures. Segregate poor quality paper such as newsprint from good quality paper to avoid acid migration.

Remove loose dust and dirt from works on paper and then store them in acid-free materials in a clean, dust-free environment.

The selection of primary enclosures should be based on the expected use and the needs of the collection. Archival polyester or polypropylene enclosures will allow for easy viewing if the document will be referred to or handled often while still protecting the item from damage. Paper enclosures can be more budget-friendly and absorb acid in the document. Light and pollutant damage can be avoided more easily by using paper envelopes or folders.

File folders work well for storing larger quantities of documents in each enclosure, while envelopes and sleeves are best for individual documents requiring extra care. Use buffered interleaving paper between documents stored together to prevent acid migration.

For papers that are acidic, fragile, brittle, or torn extra protection is necessary. Insert the individual document into an envelope sling, paper folder or polyester sleeve and store flat.

Encapsulation, the practice of sealing a document between two sheets of polyester to protect the item from handling and contaminants, has been discovered, to actually accelerate the deterioration of acidic papers. If considering encapsulation, it is recommended that the document be deacidified by a conservator. If this is not possible, a sheet of buffered paper can be placed behind the document. Another option is to place the item in an unsealed polyester enclosure, such as an L-sleeve.

Do not place too many documents in a single folder. Overcrowding will increase unnecessary handling and potential abrasion or tearing. There should be no more than 10 sheets per folder; the more valuable the documents, the fewer sheets per folder.

Place documents in their enclosures in archival document cases or record storage cartons for additional protection from dust, dirt, light and environmental pollutants. Archival record storage cartons are an economical solution for storing large quantities of documents. An inventory list of the contents of each carton should be maintained for future reference. If storing documents vertically, use spacers and dividers in partially filled boxes to prevent sagging and to keep folders upright.

Store boxes in locations that are cool, dry and stable, without large changes in temperature and relative humidity. Avoid dirt, dust and other environmental pollutants. Consider using humidity indicator cards or data loggers to keep track of the environment.