Small collections (<1000 boxes)
Archives should be stored securely and handled with care. Here are some best practice tips for looking after your archives and maintaining their physical condition:
Do store archives in a secure facility/rooms with controlled access via archive manager or company archivist.
Do try and keep archive store at stable temperature and humidity levels (within a range of 13°C 19°C and 45% 60% respectively, for paper and parchment material).
Do install fire detection in the archive store, and have either fire suppression systems or a rapid response from the fire brigade.
Do have spare capacity, or contingency storage for new material in your archive store.
Do store archives in archival-quality boxes – available from specialist suppliers listed at the Arcives and Records Association’s directory of suppliers here.
Do use acid-free archival quality folders and plastic sleeves, not office stationery, to store photographs and other fragile documents. For suppliers click here.
Do consult a professional conservator if archives are frail. Most public sector archives employ conservators. For more information visit the directory of archives at https://www.conservationregister.com/
Dont expose archives to undue risk keep away from cups of coffee, scissors, staplers, sticky labels or tape, and other office hazards!
Dont write on archives unless using a soft pencil when cataloguing items with unique reference numbers.
Dont break up archives either by removing papers from files, cutting out sections, re-arranging internal file make-up, as these actions will affect the historical integrity of the record.
Dont break up archive collections (where possible) as this may affect the historical integrity of your archive.
Dont lend archives to third parties unless you are sure they will treat them with care, and return them in one piece!
Large collections (>1000 boxes; multi-site location etc)
Ideally disparate collections of records (from multi-sites or buildings) should be co-located in a purpose-built archive repository either in a stand-alone facility or within existing office accommodation. The latter is more accessible for company employees wanting to use the resource.
If investing in a new-build or refurbishment to create a purpose-built archive it is highly recommended that you consult the relevant British Standards, BS EN 16893:2018 Conservation of Cultural Heritage. Specifications for location, construction and modification of buildings or rooms intended for the storage or use of heritage collections and BS 4971:2017 Conservation and care of archive and library collections.
The National Archives also offers guidance on protecting archives and manuscripts against disaster, and lists other resources about caring for archives at http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/archives-sector/advice-and-guidance/managing-your-collection/caring-for-archives/.
Key risks to consider include:
1. Water ingress:
- Extreme weather – rain, high tides or river levels
- Leaking/ or damaged roofs
- Leaking pipework, blocked drains and gutters, water hydrants
- Malfunctioning air conditioning or other equipment
- Humidity and condensation
2. Fire or smoke damage:
- Poor storage of flammable materials
- Malfunctioning electrical wiring and equipment
- Hot work by contractors
- Arson/ smoking
3. Theft and vandalism
4. Structural damage:
- Gas leaks
- Industrial or chemical accident
- Collisions from vehicles etc
- Risks from neighbouring premises or activities