The art of preservation

The art of preservation

Carleen Dekarski Managing archives

You have put a large amount of work into collecting, appraising, accessioning, arranging and describing your archives. Now it is time to ensure that going forward the records remain in the best condition they can for the future.

Preservation and conservation are quite different. We are looking to preserve our archives by preparing them for a long journey in the archive. Conservation is a specialist field where experts work to repair or minimise damage that is already evident. Conservation should be left to the experts.

Preparation for preservation

During the above process it is a good time to be noting the condition of the archives and any work that needs to happen to them before boxing and shelving. A number of items will continue to damage the archives so preventive actions can be taken. These include:

Metal and other fasteners
  • remove metal items e.g. staples, pins, paperclips, prongs etc to minimise rust staining the record
  • replace metal items with archival friendly paperclips or for larger volumes to keep together you can use polyamide filing clips
  • remove rubber bands as these deteriorate quickly and leave brown unsightly stains
  • sticky tape should be removed (if it can without damaging the item), never use sticky tape for repairs as it yellows badly and marks items
  • cotton tying tape (not an actual tape) is also a good option to keeping records together without using fasteners
  • creases in folded paper will become more brittle on the folds over time, if possible without damaging the item, store paper items flat
  • think about storing particular items in archival polyester or polypropylene enclosures or envelopes, cost will be a factor
  • then place inside archival boxes e.g. London boxes which gives a bit more protection and also easier for handling, storage and shelf space
  • heavier items that will bend upon picking up can be stored in archival board flat boxes or folders
Photographs, slides and negatives
  • store in polyester or polypropylene enclosures or flip photograph albums, these enclosures come in all sizes to suit photos, slides and negatives. Of course, keeping them in the original order is imperative
  • if the photos are already in photograph albums with magnetic or sticky backing it may be too late to remove the photos without damaging them, it is preferable to remove but not if it will damage the photos
  • flip page albums (where you slide the photograph in sidewards) are quite handy to use and have no sticky residues
  • review any books for mildew, mould, foxing in case these need to be attended to before storage, a conservation specialist may need to be referred to in these cases
  • storage in specific made archival boxes is preferred but can be costly, if in boxes lie them flat on the shelf not on the spine upright
  • where stored upright ensure the book can be removed with some space to put your fingers in between the books and pull it out by holding the middle of the spine not from the top of the spine


So where can you find archival quality enclosures, boxes, envelopes? Well you can either go to places like Warehouse Stationary or the like and find items that are closest to or there are also conservation specialists. I use Conservation Supplies based in the Hawkes Bay for many items. There is also Port Nicholson Packaging for London Boxes or Records Management boxes. The records management boxes are not archival quality board but they are a good size for weight and height on shelving.

If you provide archival supplies and tools drop me a line as it is always useful to know what else is out there to use in the archive.

So now that you have all your items prepared for boxing what type of shelving and labelling should you use? Look out for the next instalment here at Arcavee – the art of archiving.

Recognition: Street art photo by Beata Ratuszniak, Creative Commons Zero licence, published with thanks from

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About the Author

Carleen Dekarski

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I have worked in the quality management, information management and archival field over the last 15 years across Australia, England and New Zealand. The progression from information management to archives was a self taught journey and one that is not unfamiliar in many businesses and communities today. My daily expertise is grounded in local government archives however the principles of archiving apply to all. I am a member of the ICA and ARANZ.