Care of collections

Preserving our unique collections for current and future generations to use is a key aspect of our work

Documents vary from old paper and parchment to modern photographic materials and electronic data.

Preserving our archives includes all aspects of physical care. For example:

  • long-term secure storage in a suitable environment
  • use of acid-free materials and other appropriate packaging
  • use of good handling techniques
  • practical conservation work undertaken as necessary
  • protection against fire, flood, theft

How documents can become damaged

Many archives arrive in poor condition. This could be due to:

  • previous storage in unsuitable locations such as damp cellars and hot attics. They can expose documents to changing climates, dust, dirt and pests such as rodents and insects
  • poor handling methods weakening materials further
  • unsuitable repairs in the past, such as tears repaired with adhesive tape storage in acidic envelopes and wallets poor quality scrapbooks and adhesive photograph albums
  • storage in plastic materials which can degrade
  • fastenings such as paperclips which may rust

How we care for our archives

If necessary, we clean and dry documents before packaging them for protection in acid-free materials. We also provide secure storage in our environmentally-controlled strongrooms. Specialist detection equipment and appropriate security measures are in place as safeguards.

Careless handling can damage documents. In the search room we have appropriate support equipment. We give advice on good handling techniques to limit the likelihood of any further damage. If items are too fragile for public use we include them in our conservation programme. Here documents undergo practical repair procedures to make them fit for use. If a document is too fragile for use you can contact us for advice. We may bring it forward in the conservation programme. Or we will look into alternative ways of providing access.

More on care of collections from The National Archives and The British Library