Working at the archive

So. It has been a while again. I am apparently not so great at keeping up with my blog when I am busy with other things. I have to say though that I much prefer being too busy (with work, family, etc.) to write my blog to being able to write on my blog every day as my only activity of the day. Hopefully Now that I am working in an archive I will have more to write about so I will hopefully write longer posts now that I have much more to talk about. I have to say it is really cool to see actual examples of all the things that I learned about how to handle archival material and where interdepartmental issues that come up.

Paperclip, Staples, Clips, Etc.

As I learned in my classes, and as I now have personal experience with, metal objects like paperclips,staples, and clips damage paper.

They rust which leaves brown marks on the pages. They also hold the pages together with a very tight grip (paperclips and clips) which leave behind lines and grooves on the pages. Or hold the pages with metal pieces through the pages (staples) which can cause tears as the older fragile pages shred around the holes. Sometimes pages in the back or front slip out of the staples and tear away from the other pages completely other times they stay together with the other pages with small strips that remain gripped in the staple while a large hole tears in the page around the strip.


Newspaper is the most acidic form of paper. It browns as it ages, as does normal paper, but at a much quicker rate. Not only does the newspaper itself turn brown as the acidic eats away at it but the acidity causes the newspaper to crumble on the edges and tear very easily. Not only that but newspaper also spreads the increased acidity and subsequent increased deterioration of paper to other papers that it touches.

Shoelace Bindings

The final issue that I found in this collection was the shoestring bindings.Many of the books are bound with these shoestring bindings that are falling apart, shredding the materials and causes folds and severe creases on the pages.

After I realized the problem, I spoke to the preservation department and it was decided that the material would have to be removed from the shoelace binding. This is not always as simple as it sounds. The shoelaces are fragile and tend to either snap in my hands as I am trying to unwind them from the metal tabs that hold them down, or refuse to come out, requiring me to use force which means that my hands are suffering.

The shoelaces are also tied in the back with knots sometimes, which means that my fingers are again. Who knew that archive work was tough on fingers. The shoestrings also catch on the pages and get stuck part way through.

Inter-Departmental Conflicts

One of the main issues with archival processing is the conflict of interest involved in what method of processing to do. The archivist want quick access to the materials. So do the researchers, donors, etc. This means that the processers want to process the collection as quickly as possible.

This is a highly debated issue with archivists. The big question is how much is enough care to take with materials, how much needs to be done, and therefore how much time needs to be spent on preservation measures for the materials. Many archives, in an effort to keep up with large backlogs of unprocessed materials are doing minimal processing as described in the article that I read and discussed in my Archives and Manuscripts class:  Mark A. Greene and Dennis Meissner, “More Product, Less Process: Revamping Traditional Processing,” American Archivist (Fall/Winter 2005), pp. 208-263.

The article discusses the new practice of doing minimal preservation activity. This means that the previous practice of removing all staples, paperclips, and clips is quickly being abandoned in archiving practices.  So all of these items which cause accelerated damage to paper are being left in the material.

As I am reprocessing this collection, I have the time and am therefore removing all paperclips and any rusted staples. As I find newspaper in the collection I place a sheet of acid free paper in front of and in back of each piece of newsprint. This should hopefully contain the deterioration of the paper.

All of the shoelace bindings are now being taken apart and the materials are being placed in folders. However, this is causing further issues like making the project take longer. This is for two reasons 1.Removing the shoestring bindings takes time as does labeling all the new folders. 2.Moving these materials from one bound book to one or more folders means that the description of the materials has to be completely redone to reflect the new status of the materials.

For now this is where I am. But who knows what the future of this project holds. I may have more stuff to talk about. But either way, I am learning a lot and loving it.


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