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One of the primary motivations that govern the National Archives is the preservation of our government’s records.  While our mission is to provide public access to government records, NARA staff are also tasked with protecting our holdings.  A visit to our research rooms reveals the energy we expend on undertaking these two contradictory responsibilities. Because improper handling of records can cause irreversible damage, researchers are our most important allies when it comes to preserving our Nation's history.


Here are the top 10 DO’s and DON'Ts for Records Handling:

  1. DO hold records with two hands to protect the documents and keep them from breaking.
  2. DON’T write on records or on top of records.
  3. DO cover records and close boxes that are not in use to prevent light damage.
  4. DON’T lean or put any objects on top of records, with the exception of NARA approved paperweights.
  5. DO maintain the original order of folders and papers so that the next researcher finds them in the same order you did.
  6. DON’T remove staples - ask a NARA employee who has the appropriate tools to do it for you.
  7. DO wear gloves when handling photographs to protect them from fingerprints. 
  8. DO use light finger pressure to gently flatten folded records. Flexing paper back and forth along creases may cause breaks and tears.


  1. DO use a pillow to support the spines of a book or ledger and use weights to keep pages open, if needed. NEVER force volumes open as this may damage bindings and fracture book spines. 


  1. DON’T remove documents from clear polyester sleeves, which protect the documents.


While reviewing records, if you notice something out of the ordinary, such as the boxes and folders falling apart, the contents of the box not matching the exterior label, papers ripped, etc., we have special Holdings Maintenance forms available in the research rooms for researchers to fill out so that these records receive the conservation attention that they need.  More information on our Holdings Maintenance policies can be found on our website’s Preservation webpage.


Please remember that our records are for everyone and YOU are the key to their continued preservation. 


Finally, if you need something, please ask for help. We are here for you!