Monday, November 30, 2015


Activities associated with maintaining library, archival or museum materials for use, either in original physical form or in some other format. Preservation is a broader term than conservation: conservation activities form part of a total preservation program. Preservation includes both activities taken to repair or treat damaged materials (retrospective) and activities taken to prevent or delay material becoming damaged (preventive preservation). 
National Library of Australia. Library Prevention Glossary

The use of procedures to preserve and repair the physical structure of an item. All processes ideally should be reversible. 
National Library of Australia. Library Prevention Glossary

Causes of deterioration include
  • Changes in papermaking and binding practices
  • Acidity
  • Environment
  • Insect pests
  • Rodents
  • Fungus
  • Use and abuse by people
Changes in papermaking
Parchment: The split skin of an animal, usually a sheep, goat, or young calf, bleached, stretched, scraped, and prepared for use in bookbinding or as a writing or painting surface, from about the 2nd century A.D. until well after the invention of movable type.

Vellum: A thin, fine parchment made from the skin of a newly born lamb, kid, or calf, dressed and polished with alum for use as a writing surface and in bookbinding, before paper came into use in the 15th century.

 Reitz. ODLIS.
  • Early papers made from cotton and linen rags
  • 1830’s introduction of alum-rosin sizing replacing gelatin and gelatin-alum sizing
    • Breaks down over time to produce sulfuric acid which eventually causes paper to deteriorate and become brittle
Size (sizing)
Chemicals added to paper and board during manufacture to make it less absorbent, so that inks will not bleed, and the image will have better definition. Sizing can also be used to strengthen weak papers. Rosins, gelatin, starches and synthetic resins are used as sizing agents.
National Library of Australia. Library Prevention Glossary

Alum/rosin size
Chemicals added to paper and board during manufacture to make it less absorbent, so that inks will not bleed, and the image will have better definition. Sizing can also be used to strengthen weak papers. Rosins, gelatin, starches and synthetic resins are used as sizing agents.
National Library of Australia. Library Prevention Glossary
  • 1850 replacement of rag pulp paper with wood pulp paper
    • <cellulose fibres of wood 10 times smaller and much more fragile than those of textiles

Acid paper
Paper which has a pH value lower than seven. An important factor in the preservation of printed materials, acidity causes paper to yellow and become brittle over time. To solve this problem, publishers are encouraged to use acid-free or permanent paper in printing trade books.

Reitz. ODLIS

Paper can develop an acidic nature because of:
Preservation methods include:
  • Protective enclosures
  • Deacidification
  • Reprographic services
  • Digitization
  • Alkaline paper
  • Shelving
Protective enclosures
An example of a protective enclosure includes a phase box.

Double-tray box also known as a drop-spine or clamshell box.

Acid-free folders.


A common term for a chemical treatment that neutralises acid in a material such as paper, and that may deposit an alkaline buffer to counteract future acid attack. While deacidification may increase the chemical stability of paper, it does not restore strength or flexibility to brittle materials.
National Library of Australia. Library Prevention Glossary

Mass deacidification

  • No "ideal" mass deacidification process
  • Current systems and their users include:
Battelle Swiss National Archives
National Library Leipzig
Eschborn, Germany
Bookkeeper Library of Congress
Libertec Berlin & Munich State Libraries, Germany
Neschen State Archive of Lower Saxony, Germany
National Archive, Berlin, Germany
Wei T'o National Library of Canada

Reprographic services
  • Microfilming
  • Photocopying
    • least expensive
  • Photography
Electronic digitization

Electronic digitization refers to the capture of the document in electronic form through a process of scanning and digitization. The scanned image can be made over the Internet, or stored electronically, usually on magnetic or optical storage media.

Wooden vs. metal shelves

From the perspective of preservation, it is best to store collections on metal shelving, since wood shelving can give off damaging pollutants. If wood shelving must be used, shelves should be sealed with polyurethane. Oil-based paints and stains should be avoided. In addition, shelves can be lined with museum board, polyester film, glass, Plexiglas, or an inert metallic laminate material to prevent materials from coming into direct contact with the wood.

Metal shelves should be powder coated electrostatically as other finishing processes may continue to give off fumes.

Environmental factors
  • Different records/media have different optimal environmental conditions
  • Paper usually forms the bulk of a collection of mixed archival materials so…
  • Guidelines for paper set the preservation norm
Environmental factors that can effect materials include:
  • Air quality
  • Dust
  • Light (ultraviolet most damaging)
  • Temperature
  • Humidity

Air quality
  • Primary sources of gaseous pollutants identified in deterioration of archival collections
    • Sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, ozone
  • Particular pollutants include grit, smoke, dust, etc.
  • Keep doors and windows closed
  • Use materials known to be benign to collections
  • Check and replace air filters/scrubbers regularly
  • Locate air intakes in as “clean” a location as possible

  • All light damages archival material by fading, yellowing and structurally weakening them
  • UV light is more damaging, shorter wavelengths cause greatest amount of photochemical deterioration
  • Sunlight and fluorescent lights the two main UV light sources
  • UV filters e.g. acrylic sheets, film, foils, coatings
  • Storage area
    • Keep materials covered or boxed when not in use
    • Use blinds to eliminate sunlight
    • Apply UV filter film to windows
    • Select fluorescent tubes with low or no UV emissions or use UV filters on tubes
    • Turn lights off when area not in use
  • Storage area
    • Keep materials covered or boxed when not in use
    • Use blinds to eliminate sunlight
    • Apply UV filter film to windows
    • Select fluorescent tubes with low or no UV emissions or use UV filters on tubes
    • Turn lights off when area not in use
  • Exhibit area
    • Monitor area with lux and UV meters
    • Use copies whenever possible
    • Never have archival items on permanent display
    • Use a dimmer switch, lower watt bulbs or move light source further away
    • To reduce heat light source should not be inside or close to exhibition case
Relative humidity
  • Of primary importance in preservation of archival materials is providing a cool and dry storage area
  • In general, with every 5C increase in temperature, reaction rates double, e.g. archival records stored at 20C will have half the life expectancy of those stored at 15C
  • General rule of relative humidity:
    • When relative humidity is halved the life expectancy of the record is doubled
  • High relative humidity levels can lead to growth of mould and mildew, increased chemical deterioration, cockling of paper/parchment, warping of books, increase in likelihood of pest infestations
  • Low relative humidity leads to drying out of archival records making them brittle and susceptible to cracking
Environmental control standards
  • 1999 ASHRAE Handbook re-evaluated environmental standards for museums, libraries, and archives
  • A good compromise for a mixed collection 45% +/- 10% relative humidity and 18°C to 20°C
Other causes of deterioration
  • Insect pests
  • Rodents
  • Fungus
  • People
  • Shelving practices
Basic Conservation of Archival Materials

A Manual for Small Archives: Conservation and Security

European Commission on Preservation and Access. A Virtual Exhibition of the Ravages of Dust, Water, Moulds, Fungi, Bookworms and Other Pests.

NARA: Preservation

National Library of Australia. Library Preservation Glossary.

Reitz, Joan M. ODLIS

Unesco. Safeguarding Our Documentary Heritage.

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Proper Care and Handling of Books and Paper Materials.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Describing Archival Material

Chapter 5 Describing Archival Material
[by Jane Turner, 1994]
Chapter 5, pp. 41-55

Monday, November 16, 2015

Organizing Archival Material

Chapter 4 Organizing Archival Material
[by Laura Coles, 1988]
Chapter 4, pp. 30-39

Monday, November 9, 2015

Finding aids

Reference finding aids
  • Finding aids
    • Assist in the retrieval of information contained in archival holdings
    • Facilitate efficient management of the repository
  • Descriptive principles for development of finding aids
    • Principle of Provenance: identifies the fonds as the primary unit of description
    • Principle that description proceeds from the general to the specific: identifies that archives must be identified as a whole before describing the parts, i.e. complete a brief description of each fonds before describing each series or file in a fonds in more detail
  • Each finding aid should include the accession number of archival material being described (accession # the primary method of administrative control)
  • Make 3 copies for safekeeping
    • One for reference area
    • One for storage area
    • One with accession record (security copy)
    • Can make additional copy for offsite storage
Type of finding aids
  • Repository guide/Guide to holdings
    • Includes a brief fonds level description of each fonds listed in alphabetical order by title
    • Description of each fonds prepared according to RAD and includes title, dates of creation, physical description, archival description, and notes
    • University of Manitoba. Archives & Special Collections. Archives & Special Collections’ Holdings. 
  • Descriptive inventory
  • Summary inventory
    • Also called a series inventory or title inventory, includes only terse descriptions of the materials. A summary inventory may be made for materials with very technical form or contents, which would require extensive description to adequately capture the nuance difference. There are also made for collections of homogenous materials, in which details would be redundant.
    • SAA: A Glossary of Archival and Records Terminology
    • Mennonite Heritage Centre Archives. Winnipeg, Manitoba. Kane Bergthaler Mennonite Church fonds
Administrative finding aids
  • Accession register
    • Designed to establish control over material as it enters the archives. It is intended largely as an internal administrative document. However, it does contain elements of description and in some situations, particularly small volunteer managed archives, it may be the only finding aid available to researchers.
    • Sample Accession Record
  • Location list/Location index/Location register
    • The location list includes the accession number, box number and the location code that identifies the physical location in the building where the records are stored
    • Many archives do not include the storage location of materials in finding aids used by the general public. Restricting this information adds one more layer of security. When a patron requests materials, reference staff use a location index to determine where the material is stored so that it can be pulled.
Subject indexing
  • Most common types of indexes used in archives are name, subject and form indexes
  • In archives, there is little agreement about which controlled vocabularies, if any, are appropriate for providing access points to archival records
  • Examples of thesauri for archives include:
    • The British Columbia Thesaurus
    • See also Thesauri and Controlled Vocabularies section of CAIN Resources for additional titles
Name indexing and authority files
  • Authority file
    • A compilation of records which describe the preferred form of headings for use in a catalog, along with cross references for other forms of headings
    • Authority files may be lists, card catalogs, databases, or printed publications
    • For individuals, the authority file lists full name, birth and death dates, and alternate names
    • For organizational names, the authority file lists the preferred name for each organization, and also lists the history of name changes. Sources that document changes can also be noted
Indexing guidelines
  • Before beginning an indexing programme, have completed accession records, a repository guide of fonds level descriptions, and inventories for large or significant fonds. Subject terms and name authority files can be created during the description of each new accession
  • Select the thesaurus your Archives will use to establish a controlled vocabulary for the selection of subject terms
  • Create and maintain a name authority file to control al names used in the index
  • Maintain a manual that documents all changes to your indexing system. Note, for example, when a new subject was added to the list
  • Keep your index up to date. If you are unable to maintain it, perhaps it is too complex
  • Develop or expand your indexing programme in relation to your time, money, facilities, and priorities
Encoded archival description (EAD)
  • Society of American Archivists standard (maintained by Library of Congress) for encoding multilevel finding aids
  • Extensible markup language (XML) based but compatible with standard generalized markup language (SGML)
  • Developed in U.S. but now international
  • Designed specifically for marking up information contained in archival finding aids
  • Further information under Encoded Archival Description
  • Sample Canadian use of EAD
  • Tutorial: an over-the-shoulder view of an archivist at work. In: Introduction to Archival Organization and Description: Access to Cultural Heritage. Getty Information Institute. 1998.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Archival Description

Principles of description
  1. Principle of provenance
  2. Sanctity of original order
  3. Arrangement determines description
  4. Description proceeds from the general to the specific
Standards: ISAD(G) and RAD
Both RAD and ISAD(G) are based on four key rules for multi-level archival description

  1. Describe material from the general to the specific
  2. Give only the information relevant to the level of description
  3. Link each description to its next higher unit – identify the level of description, if applicable
  4. Don’t repeat information
The International Council on Archives

ISAD(G): General International Standard Archival Description, Second edition 1999
This standard provides general guidance for the preparation of archival descriptions. It is to be used in conjunction with existing national standards or as the basis for the development of national standards.

ISAAR (CPF): International Standard Archival Authority Record for Corporate Bodies, Persons, and Families, Second edition, 2004

This standard provides guidance for preparing archival authority records which provide descriptions of entities (corporate bodies, persons and families) associated with the creation and maintenance of archives.

Canadian Committee on Archival Description Rules for Archival Description (RAD)

  • Published in 1990 by the Bureau of Canadian Archivists, RAD provides archivists with a set of rules which “aim to provide a consistent and common foundation for the description of archival material within fonds, based on traditional archival principles.”
  • Developed with reference to AARC2
  • Becoming the Canadian standard for proper archival description
Basic RAD: An Introduction to the preparation of fonds- and series-level descriptions using the Rules for Archival Description by Jeff O’Brien
SCA Outreach Archivist October 1997
The purpose of this document is to explain what RAD (the Rules for Archival Description) is, what it is supposed to do and how to use it .The Guide also contains a “short version” of RAD, identifying and explaining the minimum elements necessary for an acceptable RAD-compliant records description. It is in no way meant to supplant the RAD manual but may be used in concert with the manual.

Basic RAD elements
1. Title and statement of responsibility
4. Dates of creation
5. Physical description area
7. Archival description area
8. Note area

Elements are repeated in a hierarchical manner, working from the general (fonds, sous fonds) to the specific (series, subseries, files/folders/items). In other words, these elements are repeated for each level you are describing.

To see records and for additional information see:
The Archivist’s Toolkit: Arrangement and Description

used by many American archives and some university archives in Canada
see: Center of Southwest Studies: Special Collections Archival Procedure Manual