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Making use of the collections

Handling techniques

Collections are kept so that they can be accessed and used in the future. Unless copies are made, they are likely to be handled frequently, which can lead to deterioration.

What you can do (in order of priority):

  • Paper is relatively robust and, if handled correctly, can survive for a long time. When handling paper, you can use your bare hands. They should be clean and dry (do not handle records if you are wearing sun cream or moisturiser). Use a soft pencil (2B) rather than pens for making notes, so that ink doesn't transfer from your hands to the paper.
  • When handling photographs, polaroids, transparencies, film and magnetic tape, it is best to wear gloves, as salt from your fingertips can react with chemicals on their surface and cause discolouration and staining. Ideally, you should wear medical-grade gloves, as they provide better dexterity and grip. Cotton gloves have fibres that may get caught up on the documents, reduce manual dexterity and need regular washing as they get dirty quickly.
  • Assess items for any weak or fragile points before moving them. Hardback books should be placed on a book cushion or similar support to protect the spine when opening. Pages, maps and plans should be held down with soft weights.
  • Some holders of digital data, such as CDs, can be affected by contact with skin. Carry CDs by their rims and avoid touching the 'data' side of the disc. Keep CDs in their cases when not in use.

Copying documents

A good way of ensuring archives are protected is to make copies of them, particularly items that are regularly requested by researchers. Copying ensures the originals are not over-handled and can increase and diversify access to a wider audience. Digital copies can be displayed or shared online, and physical copies can be displayed in exhibitions.

Just as paper and photographs need to be preserved for future use, so does digital material. However, digital files require more active management, as there are many factors that can affect them. See the digitisation section for further details.

No form of copying should cause damage to the original item. For example, putting documents through the rolls in a photocopier risks damaging them. Use a flatbed scanner or a digital camera to copy original items.

Displaying documents

Public display is a great way of raising awareness of your archives but can provide some challenges to the preservation of displayed records.

What you can do (in order of priority):

  • Display copies of items to avoid damage to the original, especially photographic material
  • If displaying original documents, ensure they are properly supervised and/or displayed in locked cases
  • If the use of originals is unavoidable, minimise their exposure to light, eg by covering them up outside of opening times
  • It is best not to store volumes open for long periods - change the pages selected for display regularly
  • Any handling should be done in line with the principles listed in the handling techniques section (above)

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