Friday, 13 June 2014

Innovative Storage Solutions for Mixed Collections

This week, our project conservator Emily, describes some of the storage solutions she has designed to deal with the diverse material found in the HIV/AIDS collections….

Over the past few months, I have been blogging about the conservation of different items, such as modern papers, plastics and media, in the HIV/AIDS collections. Each has unique conservation problems and can be treated in isolation. However, mixed collections such as these often need to be kept together in the original order to maintain the primary function or intent of the material. This can be problematic as differently sized objects made from different materials can potentially cause damage to each other when stored in close proximity. Alternative storage conditions may also be required for different objects.

The storage environment is of vital importance for the longevity of the archives. Ideally, paper should be stored at 50% (+/- 5%) relative humidity and 18°C (+/- 2°C). Plastics and media items, however, prefer a cooler, drier environment. While it possible to move some items to different storage conditions, this is not always suitable as it breaks up the order of the collections and may alter interpretation of it. The British Standard Institute suggests that mixed archival material can be stored between 13⁰C to 20⁰C and 35% – 50% relative humidity (PD5454:2012), which matches the conditions found in the LHSA stores. Although the conditions may not be ideal for all items, there is an emphasis on keeping temperature low and humidity moderate which will slow the rate of deterioration of all archival materials.

The LHSA store room showing GD24 before treatment. Conditions match those stipulated by PD5454:2012 
In the HIV/AIDS collections, small items such as condoms, balloons and badges are frequently found between paper documents. Having differently sized objects between sheets may result in planar distortion of the paper and potentially cause tearing. As such, these need to be removed while still retaining their originally meaning within the collection. To do this, I have made shallow trays that can fit at the top of the archival box which contains the paper material from which the 3D items were taken from. The tray has two flaps that can be used to easily lift the objects out of the box and keep them together if the researcher does not wish to look at them. Each object is wrapped in acid free tissue paper and clearly labelled to show where it originally came from. A sheet of paper with a notice stating that an item has been removed is also inserted at the item’s initial location, so that the original order can be recreated if needed.
A shallow tray created to house 3D objects found within paper sheets, placed at the top of an archival box.

Plastics used to house paper materials, such as ring binders and poly-pockets can also cause damage as they can release acids as they degrade, which can then migrate to the paper. However, in some cases the plastic storage system is integral to the object. For example, some ring binders form part of a health promotion pack that may have been taken to schools or community groups. This type of object should be kept as it represents a part of the object’s history and without it the original intent of the pack may be lost. In cases such as this I have removed the paper material from the ring binder and placed it in a triptych folder.  The ring binder is then placed in a custom made triptych folder. Often, when the papers are removed, the ring binder lies at an extreme angle which may result in papers placed above it becoming bunched together at one edge, causing curling. Therefore, a void-filler created from mount board is used to even out the level of the ring binder. These two triptych folders are then labelled appropriately and tied together with cotton tape, so it is obvious that they belong together.
A ring binder integral to the paper materials after conservation treatment. Paper materials have been removed and a void-filler inserted to avoid extreme angle.
Creative storage solutions such as this ensure that items are stored in the best possible way, while retaining the original intent of the collections and avoiding complex referencing systems.

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