Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Preservation Week @MSMC, Part 3

Folders come in many dimensions and shapes, but the
standard color for acid-free is a nice, dull tan.
TOOLS OF THE PRESERVATION TRADE are showcased in glossy catalogs from a short list of manufacturers, including Brodart, Gaylord, Hollinger/Metal Edge and University Products. (For consumers, there are Family Archives and Light Impressions, which have the same items but can be purchased in smaller quantities.) For the retail maven, they're like a fabric and crafts store, hardware store and stationery store all rolled into one thick mailer. Shopping is fun.

Archives are expected to keep their contents for a long, long time -- or forever, depending on whom you ask. We are always seeing news tidbits about a fabulous discovery in an attic full of old papers. While much more orderly than an attic, an archives is pretty much the same idea; you file things away carefully and list them on an inventory of some kind, and much, much later someone makes a fabulous discovery and ends up in the news. (We recently made such a find in the Chalon Campus archives pertaining to the Doheny Family. You can read about it here on page 29, "From the Archives.")

But as we mentioned yesterday, old paper can be very brittle and crumbly because of the acids embedded during manufacture and aging. Unfortunately, this will quickly be true of the brand-new paper on which we printed out today's email (yes, email -- but that's another story!).

We can prolong the life of our archival files on paper for hundreds of years if we keep it cool and dry and away from additional acids. Like the book boxes, this is done with special folders similar to the manila variety in size and shape, but made of buffered board with a neutral or slightly alkaline pH. We buy them by the hundreds and have been gradually replacing the old manila folders in the College Archives.

It's sometimes a tedious process, but it's the history of Mount St. Mary's College we're talking about here. It's well worth it -- and we're sure there are many other treasures yet to be discovered.

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