Everyday, records help us live our lives at work, at home, or even on vacation. Records give proof to our existence and identity, whether for an individual or an institution. In order to protect the rights of individuals and institutions in the past, present and future, it is very important and necessary to maintain, protect and preserve public records. Public records serve many needs: administrative, legal, fiscal, and historical. It is an important responsibility of government officials to ensure that the public has access to public records.
Government officials have in their custody many unique and valuable records. These records likely exist in different formats, such as paper, film and electronic data. Regardless of the format, the safety and maintenance of each record can be threatened by disasters, such as fire and floods, as well as by theft and vandalism. However, there are other conditions that can also place records in danger of damage, deterioration and complete loss of information. For example, improper temperature and humidity levels can severely damage records of any format. Therefore, it is essential to not only identify these conditions, but to act on them through preservation planning. Key factors to consider in preservation planning include security, environmental conditions, handling, storage, and fire protection. Attention to details and enacting simple preventive measures in each of these areas will highly contribute to ensuring the safety and longevity of records.
An integral part of preservation is prevention. By considering each of the key factors, and taking appropriate preventive measures in each, damage to records can be minimized. These preventive measures need to be carried out daily. In order to help you plan and implement your preservation actions, we have provided a checklist for identifying and evaluating details in each of the key factors. This checklist should be filled out yearly. This is a record that you may wish to keep in order to track your situation and preservation actions.
ENVIRONMENTAL CONTROLS: Pollution and Pests
- ____ Is air filtered as it comes into the storage area?
- ____ Are fiber filters used for dust, soot, and other particulate pollutants?
- ____ Are storage areas vacuumed regularly?
- ____ Are shelves cleaned with electrostatically charged cloths (One-wipe, etc.) or with treated dust cloths (using a product like Endust)?
- ____ Are microfilm and paper items stored in protective containers?
- ____ Are records removed from freshly-painted areas for at least two weeks?
- ____ Ozone, a polluting gas produced by copying machines commonly found in government of¬fices, makes paper brittle. Is your copier used in a well-ventilated area separate from your records?
- ____ Is trash removed daily?
- ____ Are cleaning supplies and chemicals safely stored?
- ____ Is smoking prohibited?
- ____ Are pest management strategies in place and effective?
ENVIRONMENTAL CONTROLS: Temperature
- ____ Are storage area temperatures kept between 65-70 degrees Fahrenheit?
- ____ Are temperature readings taken regularly so that undesirable situations may be corrected?
- ____ Are these temperatures maintained at all times and not just during working hours?
- ____ Are fluctuations in temperature kept within 5 degrees Fahrenheit, (plus or minus 2.5 degrees)?
- ____ Are fluctuations slowed down as much as possible when they do take place?
- ____ Is records storage discouraged in locations where temperature is not controlled (such as attics)?
ENVIRONMENTAL CONTROLS: Relative Humidity
- ____ Is relative humidity in storage areas kept between 45-55% for paper, and 30-40% for microfilm?
- ____ For a combination of these media, is relative humidity kept at 40%?
- ____ Are these conditions maintained at all times and not just during working hours?
- ____Are fluctuations of relative humidity kept within a range of 10% (plus or minus 5%)?
- ____ Are readings of relative humidity taken regularly with a reliable instrument so that undesirable fluctuations may be identified?
- ____ Is evidence of mold growth checked on a regular basis?
- ____ Are portable humidifiers and dehumidifiers used as needed? (If dehumidifiers are used, elec¬trical refrigeration-types are preferable.)
- ____ Is air kept circulating with electric fans when the level of relative humidity is too high?
- ____ Is records storage discouraged in locations where relative humidity is not controlled (such as basements)?
ENVIRONMENTAL CONTROLS: Lighting
- ____ Are paper and microfilm kept in dark storage whenever possible?
- ____ Are lights located at least four feet from records?
- ____ Are protective sleeves placed on fluorescent tubes in order to reduce the amount of ultraviolet radiation?
- ____ If incandescent (filament) lights are used, is the wattage as low as possible?
- ____ Is microfilm exposed to the light in readers as briefly as possible?
- ____ Are blinds and shades kept closed in storage and use areas?
STORAGE, HANDLING, AND SECURITY: Security
- ____ Are researchers granted only limited access to records storage areas?
- ____ Are researchers or visitors to records' storage areas required to present valid identification and/or sign a visitors' register?
- ____ Are researchers' coats, purses. briefcases, packages, or other items nonessential to research work stored in an area apart from where the researchers are using records?
- ____ Have all points of access (doors, windows, skylights, vents, etc.) to the records' storage area been identified?
- ____ Are all windows, doors or other means of access to the records' storage area secured with locks, barriers or screens when staff are not present in the area?
- ____ Is it the specific responsibility of a particular staff member to insure that records' storage areas are locked or otherwise secured each night?
- ____ Do local poIice, sheriffs' office personnel, or local security services include the records' storage area on their regular nightly inspection round?
- ____ Are entry detection alarms or motion detection devices used to increase security in records storage areas?
- ____ Are exterior flood lights used to increase security of records' storage areas?
STORAGE, HANDLING, AND SECURITY: Storage Furnishings
- ____ Are records shelved on baked enamel or powder coated steel shelving?
- ____ Is a protective coating of paint or varnish applied if wooden shelves or cabinets are used?
- ____ Is the lowest shelf at least six inches off the floor?
- ____ Is open space left around shelving to allow for air circulation?
STORAGE, HANDLING, AND SECURITY: Storage Containers
- ____ Do all unbound documents have protective containers?
- ____ Are permanently valuable records placed in acid-free folders and boxes?
- ____ If plastic storage boxes are used, are they made of polyester or cellulose acetate?
- ____ Is microfilm rolled on reels of chemically stable metal or plastic?
- ____ Are microfilm rolls kept in chemically stable metal or plastic film cans and/or acid-free car¬tons (metal and plastic are preferable to acid-free cardboard)?
- ____ Is archival-quality or acid-free paper kept separate from acidic paper?
- ____ Is silver halide microfilm stored separately from containers with diazo film? (Diazo film is processed with ammonia, which damages silver film).
- ____ Are nitrate-base photographic negatives and motion picture film duplicated and then disposed of, or stored separately? These are highly flammable and can become explosive.
- ____ If stored separately, are such negatives stored under environmentally correct conditions?
STORAGE, HANDLING, AND SECURITY: Handling Procedures
- ____ Are paper records and microfilm working copies handled only with clean hands?
- ____ Are white nylon gloves worn when handling silver halide master negative film?
- ____ Are food, beverages, plants, and smoking prohibited in storage and reference areas?
- ____ Are large documents rolled or kept flat rather than folded?
- ____Is the use of metal fasteners and rubber bands on paper and film prohibited or discouraged?
- ____ Is the use of pressure-sensitive tape (Scotch, Magic transparent, for example) prohibited for repairs of permanently valuable records?
- ____ Is splicing avoided on master silver negatives of microfilm? If allowed, is heat-weld splicing the only process permitted?
- ____ Is care exercised in photocopying or microfilming bound volumes to prevent damage to book bindings?
STORAGE, HANDLING, AND SECURITY: Disaster Planning
- ____ Do you have a written disaster recovery plan?
- ____ Are specific members of your staff assigned responsibility for directing or assisting in disaster recovery operations?
- ____ Do you have instructions posted that provide direction to staff members in case of disaster?
- ____ Has your staff been trained to respond to disasters involving materials (paper, electronic records, etc.) in your custody?
- ____ Do you avoid:
- Storing records beneath water or steam pipes?
- Storing records near windows or door openings?
- Storing records on the floor?
- ____ Do you have smoke alarms?
- ____ Do you have a fire alarm?
- ____ Are fire extinguishers present and on hand?
- ____ Is smoking prohibited in all record storage and reference areas?
ELECTRONIC RECORDS: Security
- _____ Is access to the system limited to authorized individuals and for authorized purposes?
- _____ Are all individuals required to log into the system to access records?
- _____ Is there a record kept of who has logged into the system and/or changed or altered any records?
ELECTRONIC RECORDS: Storage Media
- _____ Are the electronic records in file formats that are easily exportable to other systems?
- _____ How long are these records to be retained?
- _____ How often are these records accessed?
- _____ Are there resources in place for processing and maintaining electronic records long-term (greater than 10 years)?
- _____ Is there a plan in place to migrate/convert electronic records to new media and file formats on a regular basis?
- _____ When migrating records, what levels of data, appearance, and relationship loss are acceptable?
- _____ Are any of the media currently in use expected to become obsolete in the near future?
- _____ Will the medium, as well as the necessary hardware and software, still be available from a number of suppliers for as long as needed to retain the records?
ELECTRONIC RECORDS: Disaster Planning
- _____ Does the agency disaster plan include electronic systems?
- _____ Does the plan include recovery from unexpected power failures or network outages that may effect electronic systems, but not the rest of the business operations of the agency?
- _____ Are all electronic records and systems backed up on a regular basis?
- _____ Are records backed up on durable, non-rewritable media?
- _____ Are back up tapes stored in a secure location off-site?
- _____ Is there documentation of all hardware and software used in the agency?
- _____ Are copies of all hardware and software documentation maintained off-site?
- _____ Is there an inventory of all vital, long-term (retention period greater than 10 years) and permanent records retained in electronic form.
For further reading on preservation:
Conservation Online, Resources for Conservation Specialists: https://cool.culturalheritage.org/
CoOL, a project of the Preservation Department of Stanford University Libraries, is a full text library of conservation information, covering a wide spectrum of topics of interest to those involved with the conservation of library, archives and museum materials, including electronic media.
Northeast Document Conservation Center:
The NEDCC Preservation Services Department provides local training, webinars, and consultation services on a wide variety of preservation issues. The Center's general preservation needs assessments identify overall risks to collections, and make recommendations for managing physical and digital collections. Their Preservation Leaflets series is a free helpful resource covering a variety of preservation topics: https://www.nedcc.org/free-resources/preservation-leaflets/overview
The Library of Congress:
Need advice on the care of books, photos, videos, and other media in your collections? These publications from the Preservation Directorate answer many questions about the care, handling and storage of your valuable collections.
For information on disaster planning and recovery:
Northeast Document Conservation Center:
As part of its Field Service program, NEDCC offers an emergency assistance program for institutions and individuals with damaged paper-based collections. NEDCC staff members are available 24 hours a day to provide telephone advice if a disaster occurs. This service is provided at no charge thanks to a grant to NEDCC from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH). This service does not normally include on-site assistance.
American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works (AIC): https://www.culturalheritage.org/
Provides articles both on planning and recovering damaged records.
For additional information on preservation focusing completely on electronic records: