Do You Have Paperbased Records – Its Time to Protect Those Archives

A very important reason to archive your documents and archives is to avoid losing data.   All documents are vulnerable to being destroyed, deleted, natural disaster, such as a flood or fire. A more serious reason for document archiving is deterioration of the papertypes.  I cannot count the number of times we have experienced paper […]

A very important reason to archive your documents and archives is to avoid losing data.
All documents are vulnerable to being destroyed, deleted, natural disaster, such as a flood or fire. A more serious reason for document archiving is deterioration of the papertypes.  I cannot count the number of times we have experienced paper that has not been stored correctly, with digitisation difficult due to loss of information, silverfish munching on the corners of photographs, mould taking hold and rotting archives.  Its important now to think ahead. Think 2 years ahead to when all media will be online and easily accessible for your staff and your business.

Key Takeaways:

  • Document archiving involves the long-term storage of inactive documents.
  • A document archive can be either physical for paper documents or digital for electronic files.
  • You should archive documents that you need to retain for legal, regulatory, or auditing purposes.
  • The document archiving process involves planning, purging, and scanning paper documents.
If you are considering your archive for digitisation, then following The National Archives Standards, I have compiled an easy to follow list of supporting document based archives for an easy to read session over a coffee.
If I can support you with your archiving project of any media, then please do not hestiate to contact me for a discussion. 
Kind regards
Oxford Duplication Centre Ltd
29 Banbury Road Kidlington Oxford OX5 1AQ
01865 457000
Storage Boxes
Paper-Based records should typically be stored in archival boxes to protect the records. Reinforce any boxes with minor tears that is otherwise capable of supporting the records with a clear pressure sensitive acrylic packing tape.
Replace a box that is:
  • physically damaged, weak, brittle, or discolored to dark brown and no longer capable of supporting or protecting the records;
  • reused from another non-archival purpose, such as one previously used to store food;
  • previously water damaged, infested with pests, soiled, or otherwise inadequate for the intended purpose.
If a new box is needed, use one that meets NARA specifications.
Ensure that the box is not overfilled or underfilled.
Avoid packing records so tightly that they put pressure on each other and make retrieval difficult. Damage can happen when records are forced in or out of a box.
Using Folders
  • When unbound documents are loose in a box, use enclosures such as letter or legal size folders, subfolders or envelopes that meet NARA specifications.
  • Replace any existing folder that is too small or so damaged that it fails to support the records.
  • Consider replacing folders and enclosures, wrappers, and dividers that are of obvious poor quality.
  • Align documents in the folder or enclosure neatly so they will support one another. Edges or corners of documents that are out of alignment and extend beyond the enclosure are easily bent, broken, or torn.
Using Polyester L-Sleeves
Protect a very brittle, badly torn or otherwise fragile record during handling with a polyester film sleeve sealed along two adjacent edges, commonly called an “L-sleeve.” Consider placing smaller documents that could be overlooked or damaged in an L-sleeve.  This type of enclosure is recommended for a variety of damaged or unstable original records. Only sleeve a damaged record that needs extra support for safe handling, or a smaller item that could become lost, overlooked, or misfiled when left loose among other larger records. Polyester film generates static electricity that can displace some types of media. Certain types of media can offset onto plastics. Do not use plastic sleeves with records containing loosely adhered media (e.g., charcoal, pastel), thickly applied; waxy or oily media (e.g. oil pastels), or flaking media. Always use a polyester sleeve that is at least ¼ to ½ inch larger than the document. Any edge that extends beyond the sleeve will be damaged. For example, only use a letter-sized sleeve for a sheet that is standard 8½ x 11 inch letter size or smaller.
Unstable and Acidic Paper Records
Consider reformatting highly acidic archival records and those produced using processes known to be highly unstable by photocopying them or digitising.
  • Acidic papers may become so brittle and weak over time that they are difficult to handle without breaking off pieces. Highly acidic papers can also stain and degrade other records they are in contact with.
  • Alternatively, support and segregate a highly acidic record by placing it in a polyester sleeve, between archival bond paper, or in an archival bond subfolder.
  • Remove non-record, loose, acidic inserts (such as cross-reference forms, withdrawal forms, or blank place-holders) left among archival records.
  • Photocopy or digitise any insert that contains important archival information onto archival bond paper, or hand-copy the information onto stable paper or card stock.
  • Alternatively, protect a brittle record that is difficult to handle without causing damage by placing it in a polyester L-sleeve.
Records with Tears and Records Torn Into Multiple Pieces
A record with minor tears, especially tears along the edges which do not extend into the text, can be handled safely with care and does not require any preventive measures.
When handling a record with more extensive tears that compromise the integrity of the sheet, place it on a sheet of archival bond paper to provide added support. Consider using a polyester L-sleeve to protect a vulnerable record, especially if it is highly significant.
  • When one or more tears extending across a significant portion of the paper may advance even with careful handling, use an L-sleeve to support the record and prevent it from tearing in two or more pieces.
Folded Records
Open folded documents carefully, only if the paper is strong and flexible and if it is clear that the documents will not break or crack along the fold lines.
  • Folded documents that can be safely opened for access can be stored in their folded format especially if the records are used infrequently.
  • Ease open a folded document on a flat work surface. Once unfolded, position the document with the peaks of the folds facing up. Then gently smooth out the folds with a fingertip. This technique will not flatten out the paper perfectly, but will permit the document to be placed in a file folder.
  • Avoid “popping” open a fold and do not back-fold documents to flatten them.
  • Leave a record that resists gentle action or that is stiff, brittle, or badly damaged folded.
Rolled Records
Rolled records can present challenges for handling and holdings maintenance.  Assess if it is safe to unroll a document.
  • Unrolling a document, especially if the paper is weak, stiff, or brittle, may cause the document to break, tear, or develop sharp and permanent creases.
If it is safe to do so, the best option is to unroll the record and store it in an archival folder housed in a flat drawer or a flat box.
  • Smaller records can be stored upright in an archival box larger than the unrolled record. Avoid undue pressure that may break the paper.
If a rolled record is too large for available flat storage when it is unrolled, re-roll it around an acid-free tube. The tube will prevent crushing and protect the edges.
  • Always roll documents around the outside of a tube. Never put rolled documents inside a tube for storage: inserting them and removing them will cause damage.
  • Wrap the rolled document with acid-free paper, then polyester film as an outer wrapper, to protect it from dirt, light, and moisture. Secure the outer wrapper with cotton twill tape tied loosely enough to avoid crimping the document.
Fastened Document
A variety of methods have been used to attach multi-item historic and official documents together. The associations these fasteners provide are significant and must be maintained.
Historic or Official Fastener
Historic methods of attaching associated records include the use of ribbon, thread, string, and pins. Ribbon lacings and ties sometimes include associated wax seals. Documents may be held together by adhesive wafer seals, paper strips glued onto the documents, or wax seals.
  • Do not remove historic or official fasteners used to associate records.
  • If documents fastened together in these ways must be separated for safe handling, access, or imaging. Archivists can separate the documents without damage or loss of information and without damaging seals or wafers crucial to the integrity of a document.
Office-Type Fasteners
Staples, paper-clips, binder clips, metal slide fasteners, and similar office-quality fasteners do not need to be removed unless they are obscuring unique information, or they are causing additional damage to the records. 
  • Unless there is a reason to remove it, it is usually safer to leave a fastener in place. Removing a fastener can cause damage and is often unnecessary to use the record.
  • When office-quality fasteners must be removed, replace them with more stable alternatives, store the associated records in a subfolder, or otherwise maintain their original association and order.
  • Remove fasteners that are actively causing damage to the records. Some fasteners are so tight that they deform records and make it difficult to roll back pages without tearing the paper. Minor rust is not a concern but heavily rusting staples may break resulting in lost associations; depending on their location rust may damage unique information.
  • Remove rubber bands and maintain association with a paper clip or a subfolder. Rubber bands deteriorate over time, becoming so hard and brittle that they break apart and no longer serve their function. Pieces of brittle rubber can become adhered to a record, and loose pieces can abrade surfaces.
How to Remove an Office-Type Fastener
  • Use a micro-spatula to remove fasteners. Always fully support the record on a table when removing a fastener. Place one hand on the record to hold it in position while removing the fastener with the other hand.
  • Work from the back of the record using the micro-spatula to lift each leg of a staple or loosen a tight paper clip.
  • Encrusted rust can make it harder to remove the fastener. Use a micro-spatula or tweezers to chip away at the rust and break its contact with the paper. Work gently with light pressure to avoid tearing or skinning the paper. Then remove loose particles with a small soft artist brush.
  • Slip the corner of a small piece of polyester film under the fastener before lifting the legs or attempting to chip away rust. This will prevent the micro-spatula from cutting into the paper.
  • Hardened and encrusted rubber bands may also be removed using a micro-spatula or tweezers to gently lift the encrusted pieces.
  • Place removed fasteners in a paper cup or similar container to prevent accidental damage to records from the discarded fasteners.
  • Tight fasteners such as grommets or heavy-weight staples can be so firmly embedded in the paper that attempts to remove them will damage the paper.
Maintaining Association When Fasteners Must be Removed
Good Practice for Maintaining Association.  Use stainless steel paper clips and a folded strip of good quality paper to hold associated archival records together.
  • Place folded strips of archival bond paper (ca. 1″ wide and 3″ long) over the top edges of the documents to support the paper clip. Slide the paperclip over the paper strip.
  • For multiple groupings of papers in one folder, place paper clips at different points along the top edges of different groupings of associated records. Positioning paper clips in the same area on multiple groups of records creates accumulated bulk that will distort the paper.
Use stainless steel staples when the paper records are strong and flexible and that do not need to be separated for future access, like for digitisation.
  • Punch staples through strips of archival bond paper as described above, to help support and protect the documents.
  • Do not staple records of high intrinsic value or if the paper is weak, thin, or brittle.
When paper records need to be grouped together but are too fragile for the pressure of paper clips or staples, or are used regularly, place them in a folder or subfolder made of archival bond paper. A sheet of 11″ x 17″ archival bond paper can also be folded in half and used as a subfolder to maintain associations within a folder.
Never use fasteners on photographs, posters, or original artwork. Fasteners can permanently damage the image layer of these formats. Maintain associations with folders or subfolders.
Records with Tape and Adhesives
Never use tape on any record in an attempt to repair a tear, maintain an association, or for any other purpose.
  • No adhesive tape meets conservation standards, even those advertised as “archival,” so never attempt to mend documents with pressure sensitive tape or any type of adhesive.
  • Over time adhesives migrate into, embrittle, and stain the paper.
  • Solvents in the adhesive can cause inks to bleed.
  • Tapes shrink and distort, and as the adhesive fails over time, the carry strip peels so the tear or addition is no longer held together.
Tape Obscuring Information
Although tape found on a record will damage it over time, do not try to remove it.
  • The solvents and techniques needed to remove tape and adhesives varies depending on the type of tape used, its age and degree of deterioration.
  • Unskilled attempts to remove tape will likely tear the paper, damage information, and leave sticky residues that affect adjacent records.
Post-it® Notes and similar sticky notes often become difficult to remove over time and can lift information.
  • If a sticky note covers unique text, consider repositioning it over an area without information, if the note detaches easily. Do not force the note to detach.
  • If a note obscures unique information but the position of the note is significant, record the original location by photocopying or scanning and printing out a copy of the page before moving the note.
  • If there is insufficient blank area to reposition the note on the record, place it in an L-sleeve located before the associated record. If a repositioned note appears to adhere weakly, consider attaching it to the page with one stainless steel staple.
Oversize Paper-Based Records
Oversize” describes any record that does not fit into a standard-sized folder, box, or other container without being rolled or folded.
Large paper records such as maps and posters are awkward and often require two people for safe handling. Always use a folder or other support and a cart to transport large records.
Oversize Records in Drawers
It is preferable to have large, unrolled paper records housed in folders and stored in drawers.
To flip an oversized record over, place it in a file folder and turn the folder over supporting the folder with one hand on top and one on the bottom. Very large records may require two or more people to flip over safely.
Oversize paper-based records become creased, torn, curved, pleated, distorted, or otherwise damaged when housed in enclosures, boxes, or drawers that are too small.
Do not trim, cut, or section oversize records to make them fit into enclosures or storage containers.
When possible, store oversized records flat, without rolling or folding.
  • House one or several records in a folder larger than the record; avoid overfilling any one folder. Consider using unbuffered archival folders to house blueprints which are sensitive to higher pH levels.
  • Arrange folders in flat map case drawers or in oversize archival boxes that will fit onto shelving.
  • Ensure that the drawer or box is large enough to accommodate the size of the records.
  • Follow established cross-reference procedures when relocating an oversize item from its associated collection.
Sometimes it is impractical to provide separate storage for records in good condition that are only slightly larger than the box or container.
Rolling Oversize Records
This shows the proper technique for rolling oversize records onto a tube.
  • If already folded, refold along the existing fold line.
  • If the paper is strong and flexible, make a single fold in the document to allow it to fit into its container.
  • Evaluate the best location to make a new fold. If possible, fold in a blank area without information. Do not fold across the middle of a line of text or other information.
  • Do not fold significant records of high intrinsic value, brittle records, photographic materials, posters, or original artwork.
When flat storage is not available, another storage option is to roll oversized documents onto an archival tube.

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