Site/Facility Archival Management: How to Avoid Going on an Archeological Dig

by Wynne Whyman, M.A., M.S.S.

You know what records are important to keep. You took digital pictures and included prominent landmarks in the images, recorded some videotapes, and collected maps from other organizations. Now everything is jumbled in the corner and in your file cabinets. It looks as if you need to go on an archeological dig to find what you are looking for. How do you archive these materials for later reference as well as maximize the material’s life expectancy?

In broad terms, there are four variables that determine how long archival material will last — the type of media used (type of paper, CD, etc.), the quality of original, the use, and how the material is stored. Below are general guidelines to help minimize degradation of your site/facility archival materials.

Storage of Materials

Two Sets of Records
It’s a good idea to have a copy of your important site/facility records stored at a different location, as one set may get destroyed in a natural disaster, damaged, or mistakenly lost. In addition to having a back-up copy, you can also think of the two groupings by the types of use — everyday use and archival use.

For example, since each viewing of a videotape continually degrades the tape, you want to minimize the impact. Thus, store the original videotape in a safe place (archival use) and make a copy of the original for multiple viewings (everyday use). A second example is to keep both the original photograph and the original scanned image in the "archival use" location. By having redundancy in the "archival use" storage area, you are prepared if one medium deteriorates faster than the other — expecting that one will last over time. Then, working with a digital copy, you can reformat the image to make a smaller-sized image for an alumni newsletter (everyday use).

For controlled access, some camps/conference centers employ a third technique of renting a safe deposit box off-site to store the originals of their legal documents. Again for back-up purposes, put a copy of these materials in the archival storage.

Physical Storage
For both storage locations (archival and everyday use), select a separate room that is secure and is consistently cool, dry, and dark. Choose a location that is removed from potential disasters — far from water pipes, a leaky foundation, or a basement (because of flooding concerns). You may want to invest in shelving and file cabinets and fireproof storage units. Below are general guidelines — as testing by authoritative sources varies.

Temperature and relative humidity

  • Keep both the temperature and relative humidity constant and avoid fluctuations.

Lighting

  • Both the sun and fluorescent bulbs accelerate damage to items. Close drapes to windows and limit the UV exposure.

Clean air

  • The air needs to be well-ventilated, with minimal dust contaminants, little or no use of chemicals (from cleaning or insecticides), not in the path of campfire smoke, and not near any cigarette-smoking area.

Pest-free

  • Prevention is the best pest control. A no-food, no-drinking policy; a frequent cleaning schedule; and the elimination of damp, dark areas will all deter pests. To avoid importing any problems, put any new donations into white kitchen bags for a few days to make detection of eggs, insects, and leavings easier. Monitoring sticky traps in less frequently accessed areas can alert you to potential problems. Insecticide is usually not preferred, since the chemicals may cause as much damage as the insects themselves.

Magnetic fields

  • Materials, such as cassette tapes, should not be near any magnetic fields, e.g., electrical appliances, power tools, and television sets.

Storage

  • Store materials off the floor using shelving or pallets. Use fire-protected file cabinets for extra protection.

Fire suppression and smoke/heat detectors

  • Work with professionals to design a quality configuration for your collection and building.

Archive Management

Establish guidelines and training to help stay organized, safeguard your information, and provide materials requested by the camp/conference center community. Some suggestions for archival procedures, include:

Backups

  • How often to make back-up copies and of which materials? Remember to back up your computer’s hard drive to avoid losing data as the result of computer virus attacks and computer crashes.

Access

  • Who may access, checkout, add, and dispose of materials? Also include procedures that stipulate no food/drink/smoking in the area and the preferred use of gloves, as skin oil can cause damage to archival materials.

Acquisition policy

  • What do you accept and not accept from donors? After the camp/conference center has accepted the materials, can the donor check them out and determine the type of uses? Who will send the thank-you letter? Check the Archives Association of British Columbia Web site for samples (see Web Resources).

Maintenance of the storage facility

  • Regular cleaning by using chemicals that will not leave harmful residue or fumes.
  • Regular maintenance of storage facility equipment (e.g., furnaces, air conditioners, dehumidifiers).
  • Procedures for monitoring of temperature and humidity.

Archival materials maintenance

  • Procedures for checking deterioration of physical storage media (e.g., warped or cracked CDs, moldy boxes, pests) and electronic content (e.g., unreadable disks).
  • Maintenance of archival materials, (e.g., spinning tapes to tighten them).
  • Conversion schedules to transfer electronic records onto new media, (e.g., before the videotape reaches its lifespan, copy the old tapes onto new tapes).

Metadata

  • Ever had a picture of a building and you couldn’t identify exactly which building it was? Or maybe the building was torn down ten years ago? Metadata describes the material in a consistent manner — with the same types of information being recorded about all materials — and can also serve as an inventory.
  • Metadata is kept in conjunction with the archival object and could be in a three-ring notebook, Microsoft® Excel spreadsheet, or Microsoft® Word document. There are three general categories of information to be kept:
    • Descriptive — describing the content, indexing the material, etc.
    • Administrative — background information, such as the donor information, source, author, restrictions, preservation of image, scanning resolution, etc.
    • Structural/Technical — describes the relationship between its parts, such as page order in a book, or the relationship between a thumbnail and the master image, etc.

Archival Supplies

The archival material can deteriorate even faster if it is not stored in the right type of enclosure or folder.

  • Paper-based storage products must be acid-free. Folders and boxes should have an alkaline reserve (also known as an alkaline buffer). However, you should use unbuffered enclosures to store photographs, blueprints, some artworks on paper, and textiles; excessive alkalinity can damage these materials (New York State Archives 2003).
  • Sleeves or plastic-based products must be chemically stable. Never use magnetic or self-adhesive albums, as they are detrimental (New York State Archives 2003).
  • All enclosures should be sized appropriately. Choose a standard-size folder that is slightly larger than the item and a corresponding box. Do not force records into folders or boxes that are too small or place them in storage materials that are too large to provide secure support (New York State Archives 2003).
  • Use only archival pens.
  • Use only archival adhesive tape (do not use scotch tape or glue).
  • You may also need special supplies (e.g., lint-free dusting cloths, cotton gloves for handling sensitive media).

CDs

  • Store in its protective case (MAM-A Inc. 2003).
  • Do not use a label for archival storage. Instead, write on the clear center near the hole to identify the CD (MAM-A Inc. 2003).
  • Write on the top surface using a water-based permanent marker (not ball point or solvent-based permanent marking pen) (MAMA-A Inc. 2003).

Archival Can Prove Invaluable

In partnership with the camp program archives, the site/facility archives operated by the camp/conference center staff and volunteers can prove to be invaluable. It can meet two goals — long-term preservation of materials and availability for everyday use. But, when could the camp need the skills of a professional archivist, conservator, or restorer?

  • Observing changes in an object, such as a flaking surface, fading, insects, mold, etc.
  • Cleaning, restoring, or repairing an object
  • Setting up an archival system for the materials
  • Changing the display of an object (removing pictures from frames, etc.)
  • Having conversion knowledge (how to convert from one media to another)

Find these professionals and resource experts, take workshops, and identify possible grants by contacting your genealogical society, historical society, library, archival associations, heritage programs, and museums.

Archiving at a Glance (pdf -101k)

Archival Versus Everyday-Use Storage

Archival Use
Limited use or access

Everyday Use/Convenience
Frequent use or access

Original nondigitized materials (e.g., papers, photographs, as-built plans, videotapes, etc.)

Copy of as-built plans to take out in the field

Master digital files — original digital scans of photographs, etc., with as much digital information as possible. Use uncompressed formats, such as .tiff formats

Copies of historical pictures for a capital campaign event

Acid-free master copy of original (e.g., copying newspaper articles on acid-free paper)

Copies of videotapes to be checked out and viewed

Original digitized materials (e.g., images from digital cameras)

Derivative digital files (e.g., a smaller file size in a .jpg format to use on the Web)

Web Resources
· The Archivist’s Toolkit, a resource for small and medium-sized archives. Archives Association of British Columbia.
· Guidelines for Selecting a Conservator
· Library of Congress-Preservation
· Preservation 101. Online course from Northeast Document Conservation Center.
· Time Capsule Construction. The British Library, National Preservation Office.
· Western States Digital Imaging best practices (2003). - pdf

 

References

Byers, Fred. "Care and Handling for the Preservation of CDs and DVDs — A Guide for Librarian and Archivists." National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). 2003. www.itl.nist.gov/div895/carefordisc/ (15 Oct. 2003).

American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works. http://aic.stanford.edu.

Colorado archives. www.archives.state.co.us (15 Oct. 2003).

MAM-A Inc. "Recommended Handling and Storage Conditions for CD-R Media."
www.mam-a.com/technology/technical_papers/documents/handling_instructions.pdf (15 Oct. 2003).

Minnesota Historical Society. www.mnhs.org (15 Oct. 2003).

National Library of New Zealand. "Care of Architectural Material." www.natlib.govt.nz/en/services/2architecture.html (15 Oct. 2003).

New York State Archives. "Managing Historical Records." www.archives.nysed.gov/a/nysaservices/ns_mhr.shtml (15 Oct. 2003).

 

 

Wynne Whyman, M.A., M.S.S. is president of Callippe Solutions, LLC. She has worked in the camp industry for twenty years in a variety of positions including staff, board member, and ACA visitor. She has extensive software work experiences in databases, Web pages, and teaching. She can be reached at wwhyman@callippe.com.

Originally published in the 2004 January/February issue of Camping Magazine.

 

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