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Storing collections: packaging

The further resources¬†section includes details of specialist materials and suppliers for storing your collections.

All boxes and folders provide initial protection from light, water, dust and grubby hands, and ensure related records are kept safely together. Consider using conservation-grade materials for more effective long-term preservation. Be aware these will be more expensive than regular materials.

Office storage boxes often contain material that affects the long-term safety of collections items. For example, cardboard boxes contain acids that can damage their contents over time; the plastic sleeves in photograph albums can degrade over time and produce a sticky residue that can damage photographs.

The most effective use of resources is to prioritise irreplaceable items.

Draw a distinction between:

  • A: items which you have copied from an archive or library
  • B: original documents or copies of documents where the original is in private hands

Use conservation-grade materials to package category B items, and regular materials for category A items.

What you can do (in order of priority):

  • Where possible use conservation-grade packaging which includes acid- and lignin-free boxes. (Lignin is a chemical in wood pulp that can cause paper to degrade over time). Conservation-standard boxes can also provide some protection against sudden fluctuations in humidity or temperature.
  • Office packaging can be used initially to provide some protection against damage, pests and light. However, it should be replaced as soon as you have the resources to do so, for category B items (above).
  • Ensure boxes are appropriately-sized and the documents fit comfortably. Do not overfill boxes so they break or become too full to handle. Ensure the lid is resting on the sides of a box, rather than on top of the contents.
  • Use polyester sleeves from a conservation supplier for photographs, slides and transparencies. PVC plastic sleeves will degrade over time and damage their contents.
  • Roll large maps and plans around acid-free cardboard tubes to avoid them being crushed in storage. A synthetic fibre sheet called Tyvek can also be used to wrap rolled items to protect from dust and water.
  • Store hardback volumes standing upright. Avoid storing them at an angle as this will put strain on the spines, and do not pack them too tightly on the shelf. Oversized volumes (A3 size or larger) can be stored horizontally to put less strain on their spines.
  • Remember that once documents are decanted into archive folders they will take up more space, so you may have to decant one original box's worth into two or more archive standard boxes. Don't cram folders in!
  • You don't have to store the documents from one collection all in the same space. It depends on the storage you have available. For example, you could store A4 size documents in boxes on a bay of shelves, digital files on the cloud and maps and plans in a plan chest or on customised shelving. As long as each box, folder, map, object or digital file has a reference number that can be traced to the collection's catalogue, i.e. it is intellectually together, the collection doesn't have to be physically together.

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