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Safe Housing for Archival Materials

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    • #134119
      Jessica Richardson

      I am a graduate student in anthropology currently working at a library and archival repository. I recently processed a collection of family papers which was organized into acid-free folders then placed in hollinger boxes.

      However, I was concerned to see that some of the material was bound with plastic report covers and that the once transparent cover pages had significantly yellowed with age. We photocopied the documents that were in the report covers onto acid-free paper. However, we placed the new copy in the same folder and box as the original, now degrading report cover.

      As the report covers continue to degrade, will it affect the paper material stored near it? At what level should these material be separated – at the folder level, but within the same box? In separate boxes?

      Thanks for your input!

    • #134120
      Angela Andres

      Hi Jessica,

      Thanks for your question. You are right to be concerned about storing deteriorating plastics with paper-based materials. If discarding the plastic covers is not an option, then storing them in separate containers is the next best thing. However, because plastics are not my area of expertise, I will refer your question to our experts who may have more information to offer.

    • #134121
      Angela Andres

      Hi again,
      I’m copying here the response from one of the forum experts. I hope you find this helpful!

      “I’d recommend, in order of preference:

      1. Remove and discard the covers
      2. Remove and store the covers separately
      3. Place sheets of thick, buffered paper between the covers and the content (e.g. 10 pt. card stock.

      You don’t mention a date for the reports, but the problem plastic is likely either acetate (earlier 20th c) or polyvinyl (mid 20th c to present). Acetate gives off acetic acid (Angela here, adding that this will have a vinegar-y smell) as it deteriorates and can be strongly aggressive towards paper. Vinyl can be especially hard on text produced xerographically (plasticizers soften the resins holding the toner to the paper), but the vinyl usually needs to be in direct contact with the document for the problem to get bad.

      The first edition (1993) of Mary Lynn Ritzenthaler: Preserving Archives and Manuscripts is available online full text at:;view=1up;seq=1

      She explains the problems with plastics clearly and succinctly (p. 83 ff) although she does not address report covers explicitly.

      I would hope that this collection could pursue one of the strategies above, based on how important the covers are to what they are trying to preserve.”

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