Collections Care in the Archives – preserving the then for the now and for the future

Archives are often portrayed as being held in ‘dusty’ conditions, such as dark, dingy basements – but this is actually something that are deliberately avoided! Archive services are very conscious of the conditions required to ensure the long-term preservation of collections, and aspire to have state of the art facilities with latest technology.

‘The Archives Treasure Hoard’, Richard Burton Archives and Ian Vine

The staff at the Richard Burton Archives call upon the skills of other heritage professionals who have extensive knowledge of science, history and craft-based skills to help preserve material for the future.  

There have been successful applications to the National Manuscripts Conservation Trust, the only UK grant-giver that focuses solely on the care and conservation of manuscripts in the UK. The Archives has recently been awarded funding for a new project – ‘Planning for the future from the past’ – which will ensure the preservation of, and access to, more than 250 twentieth century plans of the Hafod-Morfa copperworks.

The Archives has a subscription with the National Conservation Service, enabling us to conduct surveys of the collections and prioritise steps for the future. We also take advice from the Collections Adviser at the Museums Archives Libraries Division (MALD) of the Welsh Government, and attend relevant training courses that are provided by MALD and other organisations such as the Archives and Records Association.  

Old lever arch folders and rusting paper clips and staples being replaced with new, conservation grade materials

Preservation and preventing damage from occurring in the first place is the best practice. Improvements in environmental conditions, storage and collection movements all contribute to the survival of and access to documents now and in the future. Archival grade products, such as pH neutral boxes, brass paper clips, unbleached tape replace older and unsuitable items, such as elastic bands and folders with rusting metal clips. 

Discovery volunteers cleaning documents in January 2020

Removal of these items throughout the collections is ongoing and cleaning is always on an archives “to-do list”. In the past the Archives have welcomed student volunteers as part of the Wales: Showing our Metal project and Give It A Go Week with Discovery SVS contributing to this mutually beneficial task. 

Nothing could be more “mindful” in this day and age than knowing that you have contributed towards helping to prolong the life of a document for future generations to use. Keep an eye on our web pages and Twitter for news of any opportunities to join in this challenge. 

Sarah Thompson, Archives Assistant

“Nothing is long ago in an archive, my dear. In the records we treat the dead as same as the living. That’s the whole point of keeping papers. It doesn’t matter if it’s a hundred years or only a few weeks. It’s all filed away, fresh as the day it went under the covers.”

Sara Sheridan, British Bulldog

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