Care of collections

Preserving our unique collections for the use of current and future generations is a key aspect of the work of Archives and Local Studies

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

Preservation of archives includes all aspects of physical care including

  • 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

Many archives arrive in poor condition. This is often the result of previous storage in unsuitable locations. Damp cellars and hot attics can expose documents to fluctuating climates, dust, dirt and pests such as rodents and insects. Poor handling methods may further damage already weakened materials.

Archives may also be damaged by

  • 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

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 they are included in our conservation programme. Here documents undergo practical repair procedures to make them fit for use. If a document is too fragile for use and you need to consult it, please contact us. 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