How to conserve historic documents

Keeping your own documents safe

To keep your precious documents safe:

  • keep out of direct sunlight and warmth. Both these factors will speed up the aging process
  • keep items in cool dust free environment. Mould can grow on paper and parchment (sheepskin) when the atmosphere is damp and moist. Dust can spread and land onto any material
  • check for pests, like silverfish. They love to eat paper-based material
  • store papers and parchments in acid free envelopes or folders. Store photographic material in polyester and polypropylene pockets or sulphur free envelopes
  • do not try to mend torn items with adhesive tape. The process of removing it is costly and time consuming
  • carefully remove rusted pins, paper clips and staples. They oxidise and eat into your records
  • handle material with care and think about having a copy to use instead of the original. Records can get torn with constant use, no matter how cautious you are
  • if in doubt, ask our Archives Conservator at [email protected]

Conserving public records

Conservation is the active protection of an archive. The minimum necessary physical and chemical treatment is used to prevent further decay. Materials used must not harm the original document.

Methods and techniques are decided on using the ‘less is more’ rule. As far as possible:

  • the original make-up and features of the document should be retained
  • it must always be clear where new materials have been used
  • no attempt should be made to make new materials look like the original, even if they are chosen to blend in
  • missing words or letters must not be added to the text as this would be an imitation
  • repair treatments must be reversible. Materials used for repairs must be tested for archival quality and durability

Preservation is passively protecting an archive without using physical or chemical treatment. In its simplest form, preservation means using protective enclosures of archival quality materials. Beyond this, preservation is about how items are stored and where they are kept.