This week I thought I’d talk to you about paper preservation.
Paper is only one possible medium found in an archive. Some others include
electronic files, discs, tapes, photograph negatives, and more. However, when
most people imagine an archive they picture paper and in the case of the
California Water Documents, they would be correct. We are surrounded by paper
here, and our job is to preserve and digitize these paper documents so that
this archive is available to researchers. The preservation of paper is key and I
am going to share some FUN FACTS about paper preservation that are important to
keep in mind when you are considering archives.
The first fact is that paper is made up of organic material
that will degrade and decompose over time. This might seem obvious since we
know that paper is made from trees, but it is a harsh reality to face when
considering the longevity of physical archives. It’s not all sad, however.
Chemical reactions that occur during the decomposition of paper are what
creates the “old book smell” that many people love.
The second fact is that acidity is important. Lignin, a naturally
occurring molecule in wood pulp, is acidic and is therefore corrosive over
time. Although today most paper is acid-free, this was not always the case. Documents
made before the dangers of lignin were recognized show clear signs of damage:
they become yellow, frail, and brittle faster than acid-free paper.
The last fact is that the methods of storing files are
important in not only organizing but preserving paper documents. Using
acid-free folders and other storage materials is of utmost importance as we
have now learned. Storing files in a clean, climate-controlled place is also
important. When working with archival documents, there may be things you can do
on a case-by-case basis to protect the collection. For example, unfold crumpled
pages, remove rusty staples or paper clips, and be sure to stay away from pens,
food, or drinks!
These are only a few things to keep in mind when working
with paper. These are precious documents full of history, we want to keep them
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