2 Replies Latest reply on Jun 2, 2020 2:44 PM by History Hub Administrator

    Records at work: Is this a job for an archivist or a preservationist?


      My current company has a TON of historical documentation ranging from the 1930s to present day. It used to handle construction for aircraft during the 1930s and served as an AFB during WWII. I just started working here and was asked to go through old photographs and scan them so that they can be digitized. I have a bachelors in History and I am very familiar with archival records and the proper handling of photographs, but I have realized that quite a lot of these important historical items are being mishandled and are both not stored or preserved properly. My question is, is this a job for an archivist or someone a bit more qualified in preservation?

        • Re: Records at work: Is this a job for an archivist or a preservationist?
          History Hub Administrator Scout

          Hello Taylor,


          We posed this to a some of our colleagues here and and have a few questions for further investigation:

          1. Are there any records management policies in place at your organization, or a records manager on staff?  These may provide some guidance.
          2. Are these photos considered archival or are they still operational records?  That may dictate how to proceed.
          3. What resources are in place (budget, materials, space, etc.) to support the conservation work?  Can the photos leave the building or must they stay on site?  Depending on the budget there are outside companies and consultants that could assess, make recommendations, and/or do the actual preservation work.
          4. Whatever work is done should be thoroughly documented in case any issues arise later.
          5. A few additional resources on photo handling and preservation:
          6. If the photos are no longer of any archival or operational value to the organization, they may want to consider donating them.  While the National Archives typically only accessions Federal Government records, other institutions may accept donated historic materials, such as the Smithsonian (eg: https://airandspace.si.edu/donate-item), or other historical organizations in your area.


          Hopefully these can help guide your efforts. Best of luck with your task!

          1 person found this helpful
          • Re: Records at work: Is this a job for an archivist or a preservationist?
            History Hub Administrator Scout

            Dear Taylor Dixon,


            The following is posted on behalf of NARA Preservation Programs:


            Archival and collections staff often work closely together with conservators and preservation specialists to determine the preservation needs of the records including housing and storage needs, special considerations for digitization and exhibition, and any conservation treatment.  While conservators and preservation specialists have specialized knowledge and can provide guidance specific to the material composition, physical damage and chemical deterioration of the records, and recommendations for conservation/preservation practices, the archival and collections staff have more specific knowledge of the significance of the records, access and use needs, and available storage.  Therefore, it is often recommended and most beneficial for all stakeholders to communicate and collaborate together in determining preservation needs and actions for the records.


            Photographs that are torn and/or have minor emulsion damage can often be placed in individual polyester sleeves to facilitate safer handling during digitization and access.  Most torn photographs that are sleeved for handling can remain in the polyester sleeves for storage if resources and space permit.  Archival folders and/or boards can also be used to support damaged photographs and paper records when handling or transporting them.   Records with significant damage that cannot be sleeved may require conservation treatment or stabilization prior to use.  Treatment may also be desired for records of high value or significance to the collection.  Additional information about holdings maintenance and sleeving damaged records can be found on our website at: https://www.archives.gov/preservation/holdings-maintenance/preservation-of-archival-records.html and https://www.archives.gov/preservation/holdings-maintenance/damaged-records.html


            Archival paper enclosures, folders and boxes and uncoated polyester, polypropylene or polyethylene plastic enclosures that pass the Photographic Activity Test (also referred to as PAT, ISO standard 18916, formerly ANSI IT9.16) are acceptable for housing photographic materials.  Additional information about storage for photographic materials including a link to more information about the PAT test can be found on our website at: https://www.archives.gov/preservation/family-archives/storing


            Your organization may also wish to consult with a photograph conservator in your area who can examine your photographs and better advise you.  The American Institute for Conservation (AIC) https://www.culturalheritage.org/ has information on their website about conservation and hiring a conservator as well as a free referral service for locating a conservator.


            Thank you for using History Hub.  We hope this is helpful. Best of luck with your effort!

            1 person found this helpful