Physical Deterioration of Records -2

Physical Deterioration of Records -2

The materials of which library and archive collections are composed, namely paper, parchment, palm leaves, birch bark, leather and adhesives used in bookbinding, are susceptible to two main forms of deterioration. One is biological deterioration caused by insect attack and/or fungal growth, and the other form of deterioration is caused by adverse physical conditions such as extremes of dampness or wide fluctuations in relative humidity associated with large variations in day and night temperatures, light and atmospheric pollutants.

These two forms of deterioration are interconnected because humid conditions favor the growth of fungi and accumulations of dust and dirt will attract insects.

  • Biological Factors

Where there is condensation or moisture due to high humidity, there is always the presence of biological growths such molds or fungi, insects and rodents causing infestation. Biological agents attack paper and other organic materials when both temperature and humidity are uncontrolled. Mold spores remain suspended in the air until they find suitable conditions for their growth. If mold is observed in the collection yet environmental conditions are not altered to halt its proliferation, the mold will digest the material on which it has begun to grow. This results in the staining and deterioration of materials attacked and in rapid loss of strength of organic materials. The growth of fungi is revealed by the formation of whitish patches on book covers and documents, which later may become brownish or greenish in color. It is a common experience to note that this mold growth occurs more readily on items made of organic materials that are tightly packed, and this is due to the fact that a thin, stagnant pocket of moist air is formed which favors mold growth.

In addition to high temperature and humidity, man’s negligence also favors the growth and proliferation of insects. The following manifests such negligence:

  • accumulations of dirt and dust from poor or careless housekeeping practices;
  • introduction of foodstuff to storage and exhibit areas;
  • entry of insect-infested items into the collection;
  • open windows, air vents or poorly sealed windows and doors;
  • unattended roof leaks and cracks in a deteriorated museum building; and,
  • poor ventilation.

Rodents and insects are the worst enemies of books and other organic materials that are cellulose in nature. The materials contain proteins and carbohydrates in the form of sizing, paste or starches, and other organic substances attractive to insects. The nature and extent of the damage depend not only on the insect and material, but also on how promptly the infestation is discovered and controlled. Damage may vary from a few holes to complete destruction.

  • Physical Forces

Examples of damaging physical forces may include those that are fast and catastrophic including both natural disaster and human error such as earthquakes, or bumping or dropping an object, or slower acting with minor but repeated opportunity for damage such as improper handling during research and educational use, or vibrations from nearby construction.

  1. Thieves

This includes planned theft by someone intent on violating the collection, opportunistic theft by visitors, embezzlement by staff, and vandalism. Robbery of archival data is usually for the purpose of resale or for ransom (sometimes called art napping). Stolen art is sometimes used by criminals as collateral to secure loans. Only a small percentage of stolen art is recovered—estimates range from 5 to 10%. This means that little is known about the scope and characteristics of art theft.

Archive and Museums can take numerous measures to prevent the theft of artworks, data, documents include having enough guides or guards to watch displayed items, avoiding situations where security-camera sightlines are blocked, and fastening paintings to walls with hanging wires that are not too thin and with locks

  • Vandalism

Vandalism is a deliberate act by which damage are made on the records. Acts of true vandalism are fortunately very few. The visiting public is generally respectful of the work of art on display

.In the majority of situations the conservation and security precautions in the archive are sufficient to prevent accidental damage, negligence and to inhibit the less determined vandals. These measures include physical or psychological barriers, such as floor elevation, ropes and stanchions or the total encasement of the object in show cases. These barriers will deter visitors from approaching too close and touching, making or accidentally scratching the objects. However, mischievous visitors will find ways to outwit the guard. Other means of security protection depends on the guard’s perception of deviant behaviour in visitors.

  • Fire

Fire and smoke cause irreparable damage, usually resulting in a complete loss. Records must be isolated from the risk of smoke or fire, and detection and suppression systems should be in place.

Fire can potentially lead to the quick and catastrophic loss of an entire collection. can cause smoke damage, partial or total loss of the artefacts. As a result, it is important that fire prevention be given the highest priority possible. Fire suppression systems are used at the museum to control any fire that may break out, but at home it is important to have a fire extinguisher accessible. If some artefacts are of very high value it would be worth looking into acquiring a fire-proof safe.