skip to main content
Shropshire Archives is open in a phased way from 21 April 2021.

Preserving documents and books

July 17, 20205:43 pmOctober 13, 2020 9:18 amLeave a Comment

Following on from her blogs on preserving your photos, Seren, gives some tips for preserving your documents, books and artwork. She writes…

Preservation can be described as providing layers of protection around cherished items, and the layers can be defined as:

  • 1st layer – Folder/sleeve/envelope 
  • 2nd layer – Box    
  • 3rd layer –  Strong room (cupboard, shelf, room)   
  • 4th layer – Archive/Museum/Library (house/flat)  

The first and second layers of protection must be acid-free and chemically ‘inert’ (i.e. doesn’t cause further damage).

The third and fourth layers (the shelf, cupboard, room and building) need to be:

  • Environmentally controlled –  (i.e. steady temperature and humidity – not a bathroom!); not too hot, dry or damp
  • Restricted light – not in direct sunlight or direct artificial light
  • Protected from fire/flood/theft

The fifth and final layer of protection is how we handle our archives. Poor handling can cause damage such as tears, missing areas, and broken spines resulting in detached covers and pages in books.


Most of the modern ‘archives’ deposited with us consist of 20th century printed paper documents (loose papers in plastic and/or acidic card folders, ring-binders and lever-arch files) sometimes stapled or clipped together, or in plastic ‘poly pockets’.

All these packaging and display methods are detrimental to records we want to preserve and the first and simplest thing we can do is to remove all the poly-pockets, plastic folders, card folders, ring-binders, and lever arch files, and replace them with acid-free folders and boxes.

Mounted or framed items

Unless you specifically ask for 100% cotton mount board or acid-free card when at the picture framers, they will use acidic card, plywood and sometimes wood to frame your pictures. You can usually tell if the card used with your existing pictures is acidic as the bevel of the window framing your picture will be an ochre/ biscuit colour, especially if it is older.

The acidity in the mount and in the wood will irreversibly damage your artwork, documents, photographs or textiles. The image shown here is a very good example of how the acids from the wooden backing has ‘burnt’ itself onto the backing mount of a picture deposited at the Archives.

Repairing items

Do not use Sellotape/Scotch tape or other forms of adhesive tapes!

Over time they will stain what you’re hoping to repair, sometimes rendering what’s underneath or on the back of the page illegible.

We don’t recommend you repair precious items yourself; we are happy to offer advice and can either conserve them for you (at cost) or direct you to accredited conservators who can help.

Damage from rust or mould

Prolonged damp conditions can trigger mould growth and corrosion of metal items such as paper clips and staples. When they corrode they rust, and this rust can become fused to the paper, obliterating anything beneath. Mould makes paper and parchment very soft and exceptionally fragile (it eats the animal or starch-based size which gives paper its strength) whilst sometimes staining the surface.

Read Seren’s full guidance at: Preservation Guidance – Documents, Books and Artwork (updated Sep 2020)

Written by sarahd

One thought on “Preserving documents and books”

  1. Dawn-Louise says:

    Thank you. Excellent advice

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *