Sunday, September 16, 2012

Archiving Materials

An essential and seemingly very boring part of archiving is understanding the physical materials. Part of archiving is studying materials and identifying names, dates and donors for pieces. The other part is putting these identified materials away in high quality containers that protect the objects from damage. Every piece of the packaging is important as acids as well as natural chemicals that seem harmless can really damage a piece over time. Therefore, it is important that we utilize every precaution when dealing with these delicate and irreplaceable pieces. Using cotton gloves when handling anything that can be damaged by the oils and proteins on our hands is an important step to remember. Taking extra care with old newspapers and magazine can be more difficult than one would expect. And finally one of the most difficult tasks is to attempt to restore an item that has undergone damage from improper storing. Being mere interns, our abilities to restore a damages piece are very minimal, however, even the smallest tasks can be very difficult as we must avoid causing further damage.

The CJAHS is a very small organization, so buying thousands of the highest quality cardboard for boxing objects, or the latest photo negative scanner is not always an option. However, some expensive materials must be purchased, which is why I try to find innovative ways to recycle materials for some of the less important parts of archiving.

One day as we were organizing large boxes and storing many different objects in them, it became apparent that we needed a way to easily identify which objects were in what boxes without permanently labeling any of them. Writing on the boxes in pencil might have worked but would become messy if things needed to be erased. Still, we could not leave them blank. I noticed a pile of transparent small plastic photo protectors that had belonged to a series of WW2 era propaganda postcards donated to the CJAHS. The postcards were relocated into our files and did not need their protectors. I also found a large stack of stiff paper that was no longer being used either. So I decided to cut the paper to fit the plastic protectors and attach the plastic to the boxes. Now the accession numbers for all the objects in the box can easily be added and removed without risk of damaging the box itself.

While this may seem like one of the most boring parts of my work at the archive I actually quite enjoyed the process of discovering a cheap solution for a little problem. Also, it was satisfying to see all the boxes together with a uniform look. I hope that even though I do not have professional expertise, I can make some contribution to the organization of the archive. 

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