Books and Archival Collections
Using cotton gloves and an acrylic book support for handling
Books are made from a complex range of organic material including paper, leather and fabric. Bindings can vary greatly in both style and strength. Older books (pre nineteenth century) are often bound in full leather. Books produced more recently are often cheaply bound, for example paperbacks.
The materials and the style of binding can contribute to the deterioration. Books are susceptible to degradation from high humidity, temperature and light. Foxing (brown spot stains) and mould growth is accelerated with fluctuations in temperature and humidity but this type of cycle will also cause expansion and contraction of the paper, which can lead to cracking of the media and distortion of the paper. Light can cause irreversible fading of pigments and inks and can accelerate the rate of deterioration, for instance papers which have high wood pulp content may yellow and become brittle.
Paper is a food source for insects and rodents. These can cause mechanical damages by chewing paper supports, sizing agents and binders. Good housekeeping practices will minimise the potential of damage caused by insects and rodents.
Careless handling and poor storage can cause serious damage to books. Paper is easily torn, punctured, creased and stained and image areas are often prone to abrasion. Inappropriate repairs, for instance the use of pressure-sensitive tapes and other non-archival adhesives, can cause irreversible damage such as unsightly staining.
Storage and handling
- Avoid storing books in shelves located against external walls, in direct sunlight (near windows or under skylights), in kitchens, near heating or cooling sources (heaters & air-condition ducts) or near high moisture areas such as bathrooms.
- Dust books and shelves regularly to reduce the chance of insect infestation and mould growth. Dusting the sides and spine of the book may be done with a soft brush while firmly holding the book closed by the fore-edge.
- Books should be stored upright on shelves, keeping similar sizes together and using bookends to prevent them from falling. Large books may need to be stored flat. Avoid tightly packing books into shelves.
- Handle books carefully, one at a time. Avoid pulling a book by the top of the spine as this can cause ripping or distortion of the spine. When moving books from a shelf, push in the books on either side so that the spine of the book to be removed is full exposed.
- Books may be stored in archival boxes if they are of high value or if they are structurally weak. Book storage products are available through conservation supply companies in capital cities.
- Attach an inventory to the lid of the box or the front of the folder.
- Separate books with metal components (such as clasps and hinges) as they will abrade and tear adjacent bindings.
- When reading a book which may be large, heavy, or tightly bound, use a cushion to cradle the book to help prevent stain on the spine. Never force a book flat to photocopy it as this is likely to crack the spine.
- Handwritten entries in important books, for example family Bibles, should be archivally copied to minimise the use of the book.
- If a book gets wet take immediate action. Stand it upright on an absorbent surface such as blotting paper and fan the pages open. Increase air circulation with a domestic fan. Turn the other end up as it dries.
- It is not advisable to apply oils or dressings to leather bindings.
- Structural repairs and tears should be carried out by a book conservator.
- Contact your state or city archive or library for advice on dealing with water damage and mould growth.
Tommy McRae sketchbook in custom-made box
Archival collections might consist of newspaper clippings, postcards, scrapbooks, documents, maps, diaries and letters. These types of items are often made on poor quality paper. Usually this type of material incorporates the use of paperclips, pressure-sensitive tapes, staples or rubber-bands to assemble elements together in a sequence.
Poor quality papers may degrade quickly, becoming acidic, discoloured and brittle, due to high wood pulp content. Sometimes paper can become acidic due to the media which has been applied to it.
Excessive light, heat and humidity will increase the rate of deterioration of any paper. The same warnings for books apply.
Metal components such as paperclips and staples may corrode and cause staining of paper, if exposed to moisture. Aged adhesive from pressure-sensitive tapes causes unsightly staining as it becomes yellow, brittle and penetrates the paper support. Rubber bands lose their elasticity over time and so shouldn’t be relied on for keeping items together or in order.
Good storage and careful handling are fundamental for the preservation of archival collections.
Storage and handling
- Newspaper clippings and other ephemera should be supported and stored flat in boxes or folders, separated with an interleaf of buffered tissue or encapsulated between a polyester film such as Mylar. Encapsulation also provides some rigidity and will hold damaged or torn material together.
- Isolate newspaper clippings from other archival documents as the paper has a high acidic content. A folder is a simple means of storing documents. The folder should be larger than the documents being stored in it to avoid possible damage and to allow for easy removal.
- Boxes, folders and interleaving tissues must be of archival quality.
- Storage should be in a cool and dry place. Low light levels are essential.
- Copy valuable newspaper clippings, letters or other documents onto archival quality paper. It is advisable to make a master copy, to avoid subjecting the original item to further light exposure.
- Scrapbooks commonly contain a wide range of material. They should not be taken apart to avoid changing the sequence. Pages should be interleaved with buffered tissue and any metal clips or staples removed. Fasteners like staples and clips may be replaced with plastic coated clips placed over a small fold of acid-free paper. Sometimes it may be possible to photocopy scrapbooks.
- Consult a conservator who will be able to provide advice and treatment.