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Hampshire Archives and Local Studies

Looking after archives

There are many easy ways to help preserve the archives of individuals or organisations - papers, parchment documents, photographs, maps and volumes - without being an expert or spending a lot of money on archival quality materials

  • To store documents, aim for a cool to cold atmosphere, dry rather than damp, but not over-dry; avoid centrally-heated rooms and fluctuations in temperature and humidity; aim for good ventilation; bear in mind potential hazards such as pipes which might burst in winter
  • Try to avoid exposure to light (especially with photographs), dust, pollutants, rodents and insects
  • Avoid acidic and plastic packaging materials, rubber bands, glue and glued flaps, sellotape, paper clips, staples and drawing pins; tie with tape rather than thin string or cord
  • Ensure documents are supported, tied in bundles or within folders and boxes, as necessary
  • Store large volumes flat; avoid pulling volumes from the shelf by their headcaps
  • Store newscuttings in inert polyester, or preferably photocopy newscuttings onto acid-free paper
  • Handle documents with clean hands, with care and as little as possible, especially fragile ones
  • Avoid folding, leaning or writing on documents; use pencil when making notes from documents (ink has a nasty habit of attaching itself to the wrong place!)
  • Don't store cellulose nitrate based film (all 35mm film and all photo negatives made before c1952), which is very unstable and in extreme cases can self-ignite; take it to your local record office for copying or advice
  • Take particular care with photographs (see separate advice leaflet)
  • Be alert to acetic acid decay or 'vinegar syndrome' in photographic negatives/film (identified by a strong vinegar smell), and if detected, avoid breathing the fumes, isolate the affected material and seek specialist help as a priority (NB the noxious fumes are a health hazard)
  • Be alert to mould growth (also a health hazard); if found, do not touch by hand or breathe in mould spores (use gloves and a dust mask); seek specialist help as a priority
  • Don't attempt to repair documents yourself; seek the advice of a skilled archive conservator (eg at/ via your local record office)
  • ·Consider depositing your original documents in your local record office and using copies for access purposes; seek advice from your local record office or archives support organisation (eg Hampshire Archives Trust)
  • Store in a cool, dry and stable environment, avoiding light, dust, pollutants, rodents and insects
  • Take particular care with glass plates, ensuring they do not break
  • Ensure shelves/ cabinets are made of stainless steel or stove-enamelled metal, not wood, and are strong enough to bear the weight of photographic materials
  • Minimise the possibility of movement of photographic images within drawers/shelves; store glass plates on static shelving
  • Use well-fitting storage products; do not overfill but ensure photographic images are sufficiently supported
  • Store like with like, format-wise and size-wise
  • Never stack glass plates; store them vertically on edge along their longest side, well-supported and individually wrapped in photographic quality storage paper (eg tradename Silversafe) with 4-flap enclosures
  • Sandwich broken/damaged glass plates between two pieces of glass or acid-, sulphur- and lignin-free board, lay flat, mark 'damaged material' and seek the advice of a specialist conservator
  • Avoid acidic and plastic, polythene, or PVC packaging materials, alkaline-buffered pulp boards and papers, glassine, woodpulp derivatives or coloured enclosures, rubber bands, glue and glued flaps, sellotape, paper clips, staples and drawing pins
  • Aim to package/mount items using inert polyester (tradenames: Mylar, Melinex) or rag non alkaline-buffered lignin- and sulphur-free paper (eg tradename Silversafe) and board
  • Aim to use archival quality packaging materials that are specifically created for photographic images, including albums and photographic mounting corners
  • Consider wearing cotton gloves when handling photographic materials, otherwise handle with clean hands, one at a time, picking photographic images up at their edges; avoid touching the surface of the image
  • Ensure outsized, large, delicate or damaged photographic images are adequately supported when handling them
  • If stuck together, never try to force two photographs apart; seek specialist help
  • Avoid polishing/cleaning smears from transparencies, negatives or glass plates; avoid using sprays/ cleaning products
  • Use only 2B pencils for any writing on the reverse of prints; lay the print on a hard board before writing on the back
  • Don't store cellulose nitrate based negatives (made before c1952), which are very unstable and in extreme cases can self-ignite; take them to your local record office for copying or advice
  • Be alert to acetic acid decay or 'vinegar syndrome' (identified by a strong vinegar smell), and if detected, avoid breathing the fumes, isolate the affected material and seek specialist help as a priority (NB the noxious fumes are a health hazard)

Digital archives can be either born-digital, created electronically on a computer or digital camera, such as text, spreadsheets, databases or digital photographs. They can also be digital copies of items, such as scans of older photographs or posters; these are known as digital surrogates. It is harder to preserve digital material than paper and parchment.

In order to preserve digital material, we suggest that it is created or preserved in a suitable format. It is best to be aware of these formats before you start. Our guidelines will help you choose an appropriate format.

Our Digital Preservation Policy describes our approach to digital archives.


Cinefilms, video and sound recordings are mostly made of quite fragile polymers (plastics) and, as such, have only a finite life. Some will take longer than others to decay and this usually depends upon how well they are looked after. Keeping such materials in good condition needs particularly careful handling and storage. Master material should not be used for research or display and stored separately from copies. Old, non-maintained equipment can severely damage items.

Store film and sound recordings in their proper containers in dark, cold, constant, and (not too) dry conditions. Store away from pipes, heaters and radiators, sinks, windows, electrical appliances and concrete floors. Excessive temperatures, humidity and dirt can destroy films and sound recordings, as can fire, flood and contamination from insects and rodents.

Reasonable temperatures for long term storage lie in the range 10-16°C (50-60°F) within a low relative humidity of 50-55%. Official recommendations for archival storage are more stringent and depend upon the type and format of material concerned: most colour films will eventually fade unless kept below 2°C, for example.

Things to look out for

  • Tapes which 'squeal' or stick when replayed - they may be affected by 'sticky tape syndrome', where the binder between the magnetic coating and base has been affected by damp and migrated to the tape surface. It may be chemically deteriorating and require specialist conservation treatment before copying.

  • Light - the ultraviolet end of the spectrum can cause breakdown in polymers, so film and sound recordings must be protected from it in storage.

  • Pollutants like dirt, dust, fingermarks and atmospheric pollution. These can be reduced by clean storage, careful handling, good packaging (but not totally sealed), no smoking, eating or drinking nearby, and using clean equipment.

  • Shedding tape coatings - often shows as missing signals when playing tapes (called 'drop out' on video tapes), or a build up of oxide on tape heads and guide rollers, and may be caused by the tape itself or the replay equipment. Some tapes have been affected after just a few years from manufacture, so this is not always due to old age.

  • Shrinkage - a sign of old age, but not the only one: central heating can dry out film and sound recordings, for example, also causing other problems like warping, cracked surfaces on discs and splices which come undone. Careful repairs and conservation treatment are needed and affected items should not be replayed or projected, because of the damage that may result.

  • CDs & DVDs - the recordable variety are particularly vulnerable to pollutants and light, even adhesive labels and pen marks, in the long term. To keep the contents for archival purposes, use discs with a gold metal reflective layer, store on end not flat, and use 'jewel cases' or special conservation grade envelopes. Best conditions: 18°C at 40% relative humidity.


Cinefilm on a cellulose nitrate base - 35mm film made before 1952 - is unstable and highly flammable and particularly dangerous when decaying, especially in the final powdery state. In extreme cases it can self-ignite, and burns with a very fierce flame, giving off highly toxic gases. It should not be stored in a private house, museum or library, but duplicated onto safety-base film and the nitrate original lodged in a specialist store, disposed of by a licensed firm or taken to the 'hazardous household waste' container at certain managed waste facilities (tips).

Other cinefilms are on safety bases and stable unless damp conditions trigger mould or acetic acid decay. The latter is better known as 'vinegar syndrome', because of its distinctive smell, and affects films on acetate safety bases but not polyester. The gases given off are hazardous to health and can 'infect' other films and tapes in the vicinity.

Mould will readily grow on film and sound recordings, attacking emulsions, tape binders, plastic reels and cassette housings, gramophone discs and wax cylinders; wear gloves and dust mask when handling. The growth looks like dull spots and is encouraged by enclosures like plastic bags and sealed containers, which do not allow the plastics to 'breathe'. If caught early, specialist conservation treatment can help correct this problem, but copies need to be made as soon as possible thereafter.


Suppliers of conservation materials

These specialist companies will supply a wide range of materials including acid-free boxes and tissue paper.

Conservation by Design Limited
Timecare Works, 5 Singer Way
Woburn Road Industrial Estate
Kempston, Bedford MK42  7AW

Conservation Resources (U.K.), Limited
Unit 2, Ashville Way, off Watlington Road
Cowley, Oxford OX4 6TU

Preservation Equipment Limited
Shelfanger, Diss, Norfolk IP22  2DG

Secol Limited
Howlett Way, Thetford, Norfolk IP24 1HZ

G Ryder and Co Ltd
Denbigh Road, Bletchley, Milton Keynes MK1 1DG

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