Physical Deterioration of Records -5

  1. Poor Handling and Storage:

Records are easily damaged through handling and improper storage. Papers are often folded, bent, or rolled. Photographs and negatives sustain damage from oily fingers. Computer tapes, disks, audio cassettes and reels become damaged through over-handling, careless storage, or exposure to magnets or magnetic fields. Incorrect storage furniture and storage enclosures will damage collections if they do not adequately support the materials, causing books to warp, tear, or develop sagging text blocks. Non-archival furniture, enclosures, and storage boxes may be acidic, contributing to chemical deterioration through acid migration.. 

Physical damage due to poor storage and/or handling might include tears, creases, dog-eared corners, scratches or abrasions, or damage to book bindings. In some cases disfiguring marks may be made on items (e.g., vandalism or writing on the back of photographs that either bleeds through or creates indentations). Staples and paper clips can stain and deform paper documents.

Chemical damage due to poor storage and/or handling might include staining due to acid migration from acidic storage enclosures or adjacent materials such as news clippings or bookmarks.

Humidity (moisture in the air) provides water to fuel the chemical reactions that cause deterioration. The more moisture there is in the air, the more quickly chemical deterioration proceeds.  Mold and many insects flourish in overly humid conditions. Mold causes staining and, in extreme cases, disintegration of paper, while insects can eat holes and cause permanent loss in paper-based collections.

High humidity is a primary factor in hydrolysis, which accelerates the deterioration of photographic prints in particular.  Emulsion and binder layers soften, becoming sticky and sometimes difficult to handle. This is called ferrotyping, when the gelatin layer starts to swell, and prints may become stuck in frames and mounts. This can also accelerate the yellowing of albumen binders, and fading of dyes in color prints.

Parchment and other substrates are prone to rippling and bending in hot and humid conditions.  But if humidity is too low, materials such as adhesives and leather bindings may become brittle and more susceptible to cracking, particularly during handling. Extended storage at low humidity can cause photographic emulsions to shrink and crack, supports to curl, and mounts to warp. Parchment may split and warp in overly dry conditions.

Fluctuating humidity levels also cause damage. Most materials expand and contract with small changes in relative humidity (RH). These changes weaken physical bonds and create stresses that can shorten the life of most materials. Always remember that temperature and relative humidity are interrelated. Given a specific amount of moisture in the air, relative humidity will decrease if the temperature increases. If the temperature falls, the relative humidity will rise.


In conclusion, I would like to add that preservation of records is very much essential with proper steps and measures. Preservation is a crucial element in the whole operation of a records programme. The aim of archival preservation is to prolong the usable life of useful research information in two ways. First, preventive preservation seeks to reduce risks of damage and to slow down the rate of deterioration. This aim is usually accomplishedby selecting good quality materials and by providing suitable storage environments and safe handling procedures. Secondly, prescriptive preservation is a means of identifying and treating or copying damaged materials to restore useful access to the information.

In the course of their work, record-keeping staff and researchers handle books, documents and records that collectively form a significant proportion of the nation’s cultural heritage. It is important to recognize the fragility of much of this material, especially of paper-based records created since the 1830s. Around this time ground wood pulp and alum-rosin size started to be added during paper manufacture, factors that resulted in a legacy of built-in deterioration. Today, we face new challenges in managing an ever greater variety of electronic materials, all of which must be protected from alteration, damage and technical obsolescence. A variety of methods exist to protect records physically and ensure their stability and security. Environmental controls, the use of quality storage containers and good

handling practices will help extend the life of archival materials. Some of the preservation measures discussed in this module are easily undertaken; others are more expensive or time consuming. Some require little training, while others should be done only under the supervision or with the assistance of a trained conservator. Naturally, the steps available to protect and preserve records and archives will vary depending on the availability of resources in different institutions. This module discusses the physical preservation issues related to the protection of records and archives. The subject of preservation can be highly technical, and most trained conservators have a background in the science of chemistry. It is important to

remember that remedial item-by-item conservation is an expensive service, requiring the participation of skilled and trained conservation specialists. Staff responsible for preservation should obtain professional qualifications and specialist training, a fact to be considered when planning for staff needs. Conservation and reprographic staff must be given parallel recognition with archives staff, since their duties and responsibilities are equally important. However, it is possible for everyone working in the record-keeping environment to participate in planning, to ensure proper storage and handling, to learn how to assess risks and to know how to monitor activities so that the need for conservation or repairs is minimised. Preventive measures are critical to good records care.