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Archives Unique Collections Exploratory Essay


Introduction

Archives contain collections of unique materials, whichare records of value. They may be records of an organization or of private individuals. The materials are not oldin the real sense, but are preserved in a variety of formats in which they appear. The difference between the archival materials and the library materials is that in the archives,the materials are arranged in groups on the basis of their information content.

This refers to the institution which selects, preserves, and avails to the public those materials of permanent value(Forde,2007).Archives are vital as resources that promote knowledge and efficient operation of the institutions which they serve. They support and nourish teaching and learning at that institutions and within the wider intellectual community (Forde, 2007).

The archives may collect and preserve the materials, which are not official records to the public or institutions; but which document the history, development and accomplishments of the institutions (Forde,2007).The records in an archive possess some basic features which distinguishes them from any other form of records. These features include;

Inter-relatedness -They come as a result of accomplishments or processes of lifeand therefore, they appear like specific frames of motion picture films, and structures of materials closely knit that they cannot be utilized in absence of each other; if the meaning and integrity is to be preserved.They naturally occur in a contemporary way unlike the personal documents, which are deliberately made for history purposes.

Contextual element -The value of the records is drawn from their contexts and therefore, the archive keepers should identify accurately, the context of use and origin of the respective records.They should also ensure maintenance of the records in ways that preserve their originality.

Evidential -Records are a representation of past occurrences,human experiences and accomplishments and they therefore give objective testimonies ofoccurrences or documented agreements.

The importance of archival materials cannot be overemphasized.The institutions select, preserve and make accessible, the records to the public for legal,financial,and administrative purposes (Forde, 2007).The public records administered by the government agencies, for example are able to maintain evidence of the government operations.

This ensures accountability to the public, where the citizens are able to closely monitor and evaluate the government’s conduct and performance. Privateinstitutions likechurches, businesses and museums also establish archives for keeping their records.

Preserving records in archives

Preservation refers to the process of protecting documents,with an aim of minimizing loss of information and slowing down processes that would lead to physical deterioration of the materials;for the sake of the future generations (Proni, 2007).

It is done through a variety of measures which must involve everyone handling the materials. The documents have to be placed, displayed and handled in ways that reduce the risk of damage, taking into account their shape, size and physical condition (Proni, 2007).

The records preserved in the archives contain sensitive and vital information;thereforethey require proper storage and access strategies. These measures are put in placeto minimize the damages, which may lead to loss of valuable information. Without adequate protection, these materials deteriorate and are rendered useless.

The preservation activities provide a range of solutions,under which the materials are made accessible to the public.The extent of preservation dependson the size,maturity,needs and resources available to facilitate the program (Banks, 2000).Various strategies may be employed to ensure protection of the records. They include;

Holding maintenance program

This utilizes a range of preservation procedures, with emphasis on improving the housing and storage surroundings of the records(Banks,2000).The procedures are applied to the entire collection with priorities based on evaluation of the needs of the users(P.56).This offers a great physical protection and enhances chemical stability of the resources(Banks,2000).The procedures include:

Proper housing

All the permanent and temporary storage areas must be structurally sound and strong enough, to bear severe weather conditions or malicious attacks. Thematerials maintained in the archives should be those that are able to withstand both the internal and the external surrounding conditions of the building.

The situation of the building has to be secure, i.e.distant from military installations or any chemicalindustries (p.2).There should be no vegetation in close proximity.The area around the building should be a clear perimeter.

Shelving

The storage areas should utilize shelving, which is a basic methodfor preserving and exhibiting materials in the archive.Wooden shelving is often discouraged since it damages the organic materials and is a brooding site for insects. Metal shelving is therefore preferredsince it provides a standard design and rigidity.

A non-toxic paint can be applied, using the powder coating method to prevent rusting and improve the aesthetic value. The shelves must be well paced between the walls to aid ventilation and the bottom shelves should not be too close to the ground to protect them against flooding (p.4).

Boxing

It’s a recommendation that all the materials be boxed,in high quality material boxes, which are not prone to chemical attacks. Boxingprovides a dual advantage for both packaging and protection of the materials from hostile environmental conditions.

The materials are free from insects, fire or water damage. Boxing also provides a means of stabilizing the materials, which are fragile or whose reference has been retained as originals, while their copies are in active use.

Spacing

There should be enough space provided for storage of the archive equipment. They should avoid introducing the physically unhealthy records to the already existing records. Those records are likely to infect the others and as a result damage them. Adequate spacing ensures proper isolation of such materials, which are affected by moisture, fungi or infected by insects.

Proper spacing also promotes harmonious working environments under which both the staff and the archive users will not feel under threat or intimidated by overcrowding or interference of their own personal space.

The environment

Factors like temperature,humidity,light and pollution are conditions that should be put into consideration in the housing program for archival records. Most of the materials in the archives cannot tolerate severe conditions. This accelerates their damage and deterioration.

Paper made materials can withstand drier conditions compared to those made of vellum or animal skins, therefore the temperature conditions should be varied appropriately depending on, the type of materials stored therein.

The light exposure to the items on exhibit should be measured and controlled.

This would also limit the exhibition duration, where the light sensitive materials would stay on exhibition for shorter lengths of time.

The materials should also be safeguarded against harmful substances like gases and fumes, which would interfere with quality and originality of the materials like fabrics.

Security measures

The archives hold vital materials, which include paper records, maps,films,photographs and electronic records; which cannot be replaced once lost.There is need to have tight security programs,to protect both the staff and the records from threats of theft, unauthorized disclosure or sabotage (Ritzenthaler, 2003).

Appropriate measures should be taken to ensure the security of the archival records listings are done in detail, putting tags and marks where appropriate; for proper identificationof the materialsin case they are lost, stolen or damaged. There should be systems for tracking, issuing and returning items borrowed, in order to minimize unknown disappearances.

The storage areas, both permanent and temporary, should be safe and secure to minimize theft risks or other malicious damages. There should be strict and controlled access to the stores, with heavy doors, sufficient locks and regular supervision; where visitors have to pass through a security checkpoint as they get in to the archive.

The staff maintaining the area, including the cleaners should be well supervised within the established procedures to ensure that security is not compromised in their presence. The rooms should also contain cameras or desks where the staffs are able to monitor the users.

Emphasis should also be laid on security measures, which would involve an emergency preparedness component (p.56), like an alarm. Thissystem includes a computerized security control unit,which would monitor intrusion of alarms and the cameras.

More to be put into consideration is the structure,construction, location and the surroundings of the facility together with enough fire detection measures and suppression measures (Banks, 2000).The security measures should be applied on daily routines for effectiveness.

It’s also vital to constantly train the staff and the users on the importance and rationale of ensuring security in the facility. This would involve teaching factors like emergency preparedness, where each archival participant is made aware of fire associated risks and how to deal with them.

Handling of the materials

Institutional policies and procedures can also pose a negative contribution to the sound preservation procedures;this occurs especially in the handling of the materials, during transfer and in the storage procedures (Banks, 2000).Proper handling collection procedures should be provided, including:

  • Providing the users with well stipulated guidelines, on using and handling the archival materials; which would prohibit such vices like eating,drinking,smoking or bringing overcoats and bags in the archive (Ellis, 1993).
  • Reduce handling of original archival documents; instead utilize their copies whenever appropriate.
  • Setting up a workspace dedicated for reading and research, which is clean and spacious.
  • Encouraging the staff and users to handle the materials carefully, with clean hands or wear cotton gloves when handling the sensitive materials like photographs, films and electronic records.
  • Supporting the documents that are not strong and durable e.g. newspaper cuttings, by binding them with cartons or other more durable materials.
  • Isolating the contaminated materials from the public reach, in order to avoid mixing and compromising their health.

Open communication and good user relations are a guarantee to proper implementation of the preservation procedures.The staff should be updated on the changes made and be restrained when need arises (p.57).This brings basic understanding and incorporatesthem to be part of the facility.

Conservation treatments

Conservation treatments are costly but highly effective for safeguarding against damages. The manager should make treatment selections based on an already established criteria that should be uniformly applied (Banks, 2000).

If it is an in-house treatment program, then a conservation lab should be established on site or alternatively, a conservator contracted (p.58).The latter is more preferred, since there are fears of limitation ofspace, staff and equipment are charged with the responsibility making the whole process cost-effective.

The priority of applying conservation treatments is to protect the documents for current and long-term provision for access in consultations and research. The strategies applied in conservation treatments include;

Mould and pest control

The archives traditionally used pesticides and other chemicals to control pestinfestations. There are many hazards however associated with continued use of the pesticides.

The chemicals do not control the damage occurring to the materials but deal with the peststhemselves, which may damage the paper based materials. This also poses health hazards to the users; therefore the best mode of pest control has been approved as monitoring of the pests or using an integrated pest management system.

Integrated pest management

The strategies of the integrated pest management present long term control measures. These measures which provide maintenance and housekeeping environment that ensures that pests do not find any hospitable place in the archives (Ellis, 1993).Such activities include inspection,climate control,food restrictions,insect identification,regular cleaning and proper storage conditions (p.28).

Managing mould and control

The non-chemical means of dealing with mould in the archive like temperature control, relative humidity and air circulation have been proved to be the best effective methods (Ellis, 1993).

A relativelyhighhumidity is likely to encourage growth of mould, but controlled air circulation can reduce the risk (p.29). In case the materials are already infected, they should be restored in rooms with a controlled ventilation area, to minimize distortion.

Reformatting the materials

Preservation of the information is of paramount concern,therefore copying the materials from a paper based medium to a more permanent form, can minimize bulk as it facilitates more access(Banks,2000).

Reformatting can serve dual purposes; preservation of the originals, which can be put aside from active utilization, and preservation of the information in a less intrinsic value record which can be destroyed after certification of the film(p.58).Reformatting of the materials involves digitizing the organizations’ records, which have accrued a lot of benefits. These include;

Disaster recovery – after the occurrence of such disasters, such as fire, floods or earthquakes, it is important to ensure availability. In such a case, scanning the archival important records and storing them in a proper secured and backed up manner might be extremely useful (Podraza, 2012).

The sufficient records, which are extremely important to the archive’s existence are protected, avoiding cost and time wastage, as well as considerable efforts required for reconstruction processes of critical information in case the disaster occures (Podraza, 2012).

Cost saving and effective -there is no need to acquire and maintain more filling equipment in the archive for storage of the paper records. Thisminimizes bulk of the paper documents.

Real estate savings – “The Digital initiatives can actually reduce the amount of office space needed, without having to lose access to records” (Podraza,2012). With the existing competition for the existing office space, the digitized active records which can be easily accessed online are preferable. it is much more comfortable than filling records in cabinets.

This is a way of using the archival space in a more cost-effective manner (Podraza, 2012). Most of archival organizations have shifted to the digital initiatives which minimizes the wide spread accumulation of the records, which makes the facility smarter and economical.

Easy retrieval and access -Archival records can be incorporated into an online content management system, providing the staff with a faster and secure and continuous online centralized access, from any location; which allows simultaneous access to information by multiple users from multiple locations(Podraza,2012).

Minimal labor costs with improved customer service -Digitizing the archival records will not only minimize the labor costs involved in maintaining large documented records, it will also increases staff productivity (Podraza, 2011).

The information is more secure – making the paper records digital and transferring them to a centralized location, with strict access controls and file level permissions, eliminates information insecurity and privacy issues occurring in archival facilities (Podraza, 2012).

Archival preservation -When the archive’s historical records are scanned and stored in a web based content management system, they are preserved and easily accessible to members of a working staff and customers (Podraza, 2012).

Information sharing -The digitalized mode reduces the paper work, which is labor demanding, therefore facilities’ collaboration and information sharing through work-flow that offers more efficient processing and easy gauging of documents to various units in the archive should be encouraged (Podraza,2012).

Preservation measures in the Ireland national archives

These are the findings of the measures taken in the preservation of materials in the Ireland national archive:

The holding maintenance

The archive appreciates the limitations posed on the preservation of resources and thereforethe management is keen on the selection of materials. It avoids duplication and in case of such occurrences, preference is given according to the physical formats, with easy and safe storage.The archive building is well spaced, enough for proper storage of the materials avoiding contamination with already infected materials.

The environmental conditions of the archive like temperature and humidity are taken into account; the building is well ventilated with adequate air conditioners and curtains with large curtained windows for light regulation (Ritzenthaler, 2003).

Security measures

The archive has strong doors with heavy locks, which minimizes unwanted intrusion and theft.Materials in the archives are clearly labeled and tagged bearing the institutions’ ownership stamp.

The archive building also contains alarms at the corners of each floor, with emergency doors and other escape routes in case of unexpected dangers like fire.The archive has employed several guards for security measures. It alsohas security checkpoints at the entrance and at the exit of the building.

Handling of the materials

The management has set rules and regulations posted at the entrances, which prohibit the users to eat, smoke or carry clothing and bags into the archive.

Most of the materials in use are duplicates of the originals, therefore preserving the original documents.Inside the building, there is a large spacious room specifically dedicated for research and private reading (Mendez, 2007)

Conservation treatments

The archive has a chemical cabinet in one of the inner rooms which is used for storing chemicals that controlling pests. Moreover, the rooms in the building and the storage sections are smartly maintained to minimize pest invasion.

Reformatting of the materials

All the materials in the paper base medium have been digitalized. This has solved the issue of insecurity and inadequacy of space.

Conclusion

Preservation is a core function in every collection of records orarchival materials, which helps ensure continuity and availability of information for the present and future generations.

References

Banks, AK 2000, Principles of archive preservation. Books society & publications, Washington.

Ellis, J1993, Keeping archives. Thorpe Ltd, Port Melbourne.

Forde, H 2007, Preserving archives. Facet-publishing, New York.

Mendez, A 2007, The old, the valuable and the future. Oxford University Press, London.

Podraza, P 2012, Becoming digital. Winepress publishing, New York.

Proni, AJ 2007, Preservation of records. Willey and sons, New York:.

Ritzenthaler, G 2003, National archives and records administration. Brooks publications, Washington.

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