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Preservation Basics for State Agencies and Municipalities

Life Expectancy of Paper and Records

Life Expectancy of Paper and Records

If properly made and properly stored:

  • Microfilm -- 300-500 years
  • Paper -- Several hundred years
  • Color photographs & Digital prints -- Noticeable fading in 35 years
  • Magnetic media (video, cassettes, etc.) -- 10-30 years (if equipment is still available)

Temperature and humidity extremes can increase the rate of chemical reactions that lead to deterioration. Even a short time away from a good environment can cause damage. In a poor environment, researchers learned that a paper would last:

  • 29 years at 72° and 55% rH
  • 54 years at 67° and 45% rH
  • 101 years at 62° and 35% rH

Control the Environment

Control the Environment

Collection materials deteriorate naturally. Keep the temperature below 70° year round. Keep relative humidity between 35% to 50% with gradual changes as the seasons change. Mold will begin to grow if the relative humidity is over 50% and the temperature is over 70°.

Conservation and Reformatting

Conservation and Reformatting

Some items will need to go to a Conservator, who should use materials and techniques that are reversible and durable. Use acid-free folders, stainless steel paperclips (when permitted) and the like.

Reformat, when appropriate, with materials and methods that meet the standards for permanence and to ensure the creation of accurate and authentic images. Be sure to check record retention schedules for disposition requirements.

Preservation planning

Preservation Planning

Survey your building and your collection for general preservation needs or hire a consultant to do this work. For preservation planning, see  AASLH Basics of Archives ,Course 4, lesson 1, section on "Assessing and improving your building" with a link (at the bottom of the page) called Your Building's Bio. Also, "Records storage equipment" has a link to a Facilities Assessment Questionnaire.

Consider which of the survey recommendations will have the greatest impact and are both feasible and urgent. Consider improvements to your building, environment, emergency response, security, storage and handling procedures as well as which items need repair, reformatting or conservation. Make a long-range plan. Also use the priority list to create salvage priorities in case of an emergency.

Project Planning

Project Planning

A project work plan is aimed at one specific problem or collection. A project can be part of a larger preservation plan.

The techniques for managing a preservation project are the same as for digital projects. In the Handbook, go to the section called "Project planning: creating a plan of work and Budget" in Chapter 3: Considerations for Project Management by Stephen Chapman

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