Information has been recorded throughout time in wide a variety of formats as human knowledge, ability and skills developed. Cave paintings, papyrus scrolls, handwritten manuscripts, and visual or sound recordings in various languages and formats provide information to people and allow knowledge acquired by one generation to be passed to the following generation. Along with the oral tradition, images, sound, and text have assisted in the transfer of personal, educational, political, social, or cultural information. These materials comprise our collective memory and are valuable and necessary to a society or group of people.
It has been impossible to save all information created throughout the history of humankind. The beginning of the twenty-first century represents an era of unprecedented growth in the creation of recorded materials. Consequently, institutions that serve as custodians of cultural and historical information must make decisions regarding its collection, preservation, and conservation. Candidates for preservation encompass a variety of formats, such as paper, books, photographs, and sound recordings.
Conservation and Preservation:
Both terms involve a degree of protection but how that is protection is carried out is the key difference. CONSERVATION is generally associated with the protection of natural resources. While PRESERVATION is associated with the protection of buildings, objects, and landscapes.
Preservation and conservation decisions are dependent on a variety of factors the most important of which is the value of the information or intellectual content an object provides. Other factors that are considered include the uniqueness or rarity of an object its connection with significant events individuals or places its significance in relation to an institution and the mission of that institution whether the information provided by the object is available elsewhere; and the consequences of the loss of the item or the information it contains. The current condition of an object, including its fragility and level of deterioration or wear that has occurred during its use serves as an important factor in preservation and conservation.
Conservators and preservation administrators often work with individuals who manage collections held in institutions such as libraries, museums, and archival repositories. Collections managers strive to meet the recommendations from professional conservators and preservation administrators and provide the ideal conditions for the media and artifacts housed in various institutions. Private collectors and individuals may seek similar advice and follow guidelines developed by professional conservators and preservation administrators to protect and preserve items they consider to be of value and to safeguard the information they contain.
While various materials and formats have special preservation needs, there are a few recommendations that are common to the long-term preservation of nearly every type of item. These recommendations deal with temperature, relative humidity, light, and air quality. High temperatures, high humidity, or large fluctuations or changes in temperature and humidity can damage most materials. High humidity encourages the growth of mold and mildew and affects the chemical makeup of items such as film, photographic prints, and audiotape or videotape. High temperatures often speed up the deterioration of materials. Although individual items have specific requirements for temperature and humidity, generally, a stable temperature of 70° Fahrenheit and a humidity range between 30 percent to 50 percent is recommended for proper storage. Light can fade ink and paper, and alter the appearance of photographs, paintings, and other types of artifacts. Air quality is also a consideration because dust, dirt, and other airborne pollutants can contribute to the deterioration of objects and artifacts.
Paper and Books
Since the development of paper-making techniques, paper has been used to record and transfer information, and thus has influenced the cultural and social history of the world. Paper assisted in spreading ideas and information in a form that became increasingly prevalent as people became literate. The availability of paper led to the creation of books, which enhanced the spread of ideas and information. Books are considered one of the greatest achievements of humankind. The information in books assisted in the education of people and the dissemination of knowledge and ideas. Initially, books were handwritten, rare, and available only to the wealthy. However, with the development of movable type, books became available to all people who could read or sought higher levels of education.
Throughout time, as the demand for books and the information they contain increased, efforts were made to find cheaper components with which to create books. In the mid-1800s, in an attempt to lower production costs, paper manufacturers turned to the use of wood pulp (from trees) in the paper-making process instead of linen and cotton rags. The acids in wood pulp, however, cause paper fibers to lose strength, become brittle, and slowly disintegrate. A familiar example of acidic paper is newsprint, the paper used to print newspapers, which is highly acidic.
An awareness of the loss of vast amounts of printed information due to the acid content of paper resulted in an increased use of alkaline or acid-free paper by book publishers. The use of paper that is acid-free serves as a long-term solution for preserving information.
Institutions that hold valuable artifacts and maintain collections of rare and unique books or collections of primary source materials in the form of manuscripts and written records strive to maintain the ideal environmental conditions for long-term preservation of these materials. In addition to environmental controls, papers containing valuable information should not be subjected to direct sunlight, ultraviolet rays, or fluorescent light, all of which can weaken paper and fade writing. Also, paper should not be handled while eating or drinking, as food and drink near books can attract insects and rodents that may damage the paper. As with all types of media that contain valuable information, paper should not be stored in attics, basements, or places where mold and mildew may develop or already be present. Books should be stored on metal shelves or sealed wooden shelves and should be shelved upright. Retrieve books with care and use a bookmark, and avoid writing in books or using tape that can cause damage.