This advice discusses the particular problems associated with the protection and handling of files.
A file is a collection of documents on a similar subject or transactions held together in a folder. The documents within the file are often fastened together in smaller numbers using staples, paperclips or pins.
The types of documents on a file can include:
It is important to understand how paper deteriorates because all the materials on a file are usually paper-based.
Paper is mostly made up of cellulose fibres derived from plants. In the past hundred years a lot of the paper has been either acidic or contained impurities that produced acids. Over time, this caused the paper to discolour and embrittle. Newspaper and paperback books often show this deterioration. More recently, standard paper grades are being manufactured using an alkaline process that produces a paper with a much better life expectancy.
Production method alone does not produce a high quality paper. Other factors including the quality and type of fibre stock, the additives and impurities incorporated influence the quality of paper produced. Archival papers suitable for a range of purposes are readily available.
Recycled paper is not considered archival and should not be used for records that are to be permanently retained. Recycled paper may contain impurities such as printing inks and plastics from toners used in copiers and the processing also shortens cellulose fibres, reducing paper strength and durability.
Thermal paper has been used for older fax machines, electronic whiteboards and payment dockets. The paper has a heat-sensitive chemical coating that holds the printed image. Unfortunately, the image can quickly be affected by friction, heat or light. Contact with certain materials such as highlighter pens can dissolve the image. To preserve the information on thermal paper it should be photocopied. For more information on thermal papers and their deterioration, please see the advice on thermal papers.
Carbonless copy paper as the name suggests, is a copy produced without the aid of a separate carbon paper. Typically, carbonless copy papers are used for such things as freight dockets and stationery requests. The printed images on these papers are highly unstable and can fade quite rapidly. Carbonless copy paper should be photocopied onto plain paper for long-term information retention.
Careful handling is the essential basic strategy for the long-term preservation of paper files:
If folios are protruding from files then the papers should be carefully re-aligned. Before placing files in protective packaging it is important to ensure that they are free of dust and unaffected by mould, insects, or active deterioration. Affected items should be isolated and advice on how to deal with them sought through the Agency Service Centre.
The way in which files and general papers are arranged in boxes is very important:
Storage shelves and cupboards should be designed and set out to minimize damage to any stored items:
Storage drawers should be clearly labelled with their contents so that items may be retrieved with a minimum of handling.
To prevent damage to the items, ensure that the drawers:
Paper documents should be stored in the same environment recommended for paper records and artworks. The National Archives publication Standard for the Physical Storage of Commonwealth Records provides further information on optimum environmental conditions for storage of all types of archival materials.
Pests such as insects and rodents can be attracted to record storage areas in search of food and shelter. They may take to eating paper-based material such as files.
To reduce the possibility of pest damage:
For more information on this subject, please see the advice on integrated pest management.
Files are usually identified by writing on the file cover. Documents may be folioed in pencil, placed in a labelled box. Clear labelling, will reduce the amount of handling an item receives.
Photocopying is often used as a generic term for electrostatic printing. Strictly speaking, the term photocopy refers to photographic copy processes used until the 1960s. However, for consistency the term photocopy will be used in these preservation advices in place of the more correct technical terms – electrostatic or laser printing. The most common office copying process is photocopying with an electrostatic or laser printer where paper reference copies are required. These prints are generally low resolution reference copies.
Digital file scanning can be used to produce high resolution digital files that are required for preservation and access.
Document copying may occur for several reasons:
When copying archival records, the following points should be considered to ensure that the record is not damaged:
Contact the Agency Service Centre.