CoPAR Bulletin 3
Council for the Preservation of Anthropological Records
Dedicated to helping anthropologists,
information specialists and others preserve and provide access to the
records of human diversity and the history of the discipline.
Easy Steps for Preserving Your Anthropological
Anthropological records can be on any medium: paper, tape, film, disk, and in many
sizes and shapes. Sometimes conditions in the field dictate less than ideal supplies and
techniques, but there are many steps that you can take to make sure your records survive.
The First Step: Identification
The first step is to know which of the records you have need to be kept permanently.
Anthropologists create field notes or research records, correspondence with colleagues,
administrative files, and reference files. Reference files are usually copies of the work
of another person or another organization and do not have permanent value. On the other
hand, photographs of an excavation in progress or an ethnographers field diary are
irreplaceable. Look around your home and office and determine which of your records are
unique or significant. (See CoPAR Bulletin No. 2, Taking Stock of Your Records).
Step Two: Know Your Formats
The next step is to buy good quality supplies for the long-term documents: rag paper,
high quality audio or video tape, stable ink or pencil. Good supplies are usually not much
more expensive than inferior materials, but you need to know what is appropriate for each
kind of record.
Paper. Ordinary paper contains lignins from wood pulp used in manufacturing, as
well as other chemicals. The acids not only break down paper fibers over time, they also
migrate from one piece of paper to another. Thus an old newspaper clipping stored in a
book eventually embrittles and discolors what may have otherwise been long-lived adjacent
pages. Acid-free paper and boxes provide a better environment and minimize deterioration
from acid. Since anthropologists often keep records for long-term office storage, starting
with acid-free materials eliminates the need to rehouse archival files. For important
documents created on inferior paper, information can be easily preserved by photocopying
onto acid-free paper. Acid-free copy and laser papers can now be purchased in office
supply stores. Acid-free boxes and other supplies can be ordered from archival suppliers
(See CoPAR Bulletin No. 12, Locating Archival Supplies).
Photographs. Photographic prints are paper treated with
chemicals, while photographic film consists of a base and emulsion
layers processed with chemicals. Chemical residues left over from
processing film and prints create the most obvious problems, so it
is important to process film in a reputable laboratory that tests
its equipment. The most common test is done with methylene blue to
measure residual sulfide. Most photographic papers are stable if they
are well processed, although resin-coated (RC) paper still does not
meet requirements for archival purposes. Modern negative bases have
improved since the highly undesirable cellulose nitrate and cellulose
diacetate manufactured between 1910 and 1960, but cellulose triacetate
(the most common film base used today) does not seem to keep as well
over time as expected, and polyester film is used for preservation
microfilming and archival copying projects. (See CoPAR Bulletin No.12,
Basic Steps in Preservation of Photographs.)
Color film is made with organic dyes that decompose fairly rapidly, so that it is much
less stable that black and white film. At this time, Fujichrome is recommended for
color slides rather than Kodachrome or Ektachrome. The best precaution for
color film is to make a duplicate set of images, preferably in black and white. With
color, it is advisable to make multiple sets, one of which is stored well (in a cool dark
place) and not used. Storage considerations for prints, slides, and negatives are similar
to that for paper since you do not want chemicals that create reactions. Choose inert
plastics like polypropylene and mylar for photo sleeves, or use unbuffered acid-free
The best strategy is to talk to your local photographic supplier or in-house shop. See
if they know what you are talking about if you say "archival processing." Many
camera stores now stock archival supplies for storing photographs.
Tapes, Disks and Electronic Records. Computer tapes as well as audio tapes
are made with an emulsion layer as a base which may change over time at different rates.
This is also a problem with most CDs that are combinations of different layers. Physical
storage is therefore similar to film since temperature fluctuations will aggravate
deterioration. Copy cassettes onto reel-to-reel tapes if possible. Tapes should be stored
vertically and protected from dust. Tape signals can travel through the base if they are
not played for several years. Archival supplies are available for all shapes and sizes of
tapes and disks.
Electronic technology is not a preservation medium. Paper printouts,
even those on low grade computer paper, are still considered more
stable than tape or disk. On the other hand, it is always simpler
and less expensive to store a record in the medium in which it was
created. It is crucial, however, to make backup copies of computer
files, properly stored (in a cool location with stable humidity) separately
from the originals. Because of rapid changes in hardware, it is important
to copy computer files regularly, converting to the latest technology
available. (Also see CoPAR Bulletin No.15, Managing Electronic
Step Three: Prepare The Records
Another step is to make sure you remove materials like paper clips, rubber bands, and
wrapping material. If you want to save artifacts or herbal materials, such as flowers,
make sure they have their own appropriate enclosures. Isolate newspaper and thermofax
copies since they are both acidic and will damage surrounding papers or photographs.
Motion picture film should be stacked horizontally to prevent warping. Multiple copies
will prevent loss of information; videocassette copies can be used for reference purposes.
However, videos are an electronic medium and present long term storage difficulties.
The Last Step: Storage
The last step is to make sure you have good storage. If you are still using fragile
items and photographs, protect them with mylar sleeves. Maps and drawings stored folded
will crack over time. If they fit into boxes, map drawers or blueprint cabinets, they
should be stored flat in acid-free folders sized to fit the box or drawer. Very large
items can be rolled around a large acid-free core, covered by an outside layer of
acid-free paper or inert polyester. It is useful to have a photograph or microfilm of the
item for reference to avoid the damage of repeated unrolling. Having everything labeled
and inventoried reduces handling and makes your records accessible, especially to
Records should be stored at a constant temperature and humidity. Environmental cycling
produces expansion and contraction, weakening paper fibers and affecting emulsion on film
and tape. Cooler temperatures are recommended for film and tape, particularly color film.
Good air quality is important because pollutants, such as sulphur and nitrogen, and dust
When you are no longer using your records, think about donating them to a repository.
(See CoPAR Bulletin No. 5, Organizing and Transferring Your Records, CoPAR Bulletin
No. 4, Finding a Home For Your Records). If you have collaborators or graduate
students, you can furnish always furnish them copies. Having your records in a repository
will insure that they will be available for use by others. Remember that you can place
some restriction on the records to protect privacy and cultural sensitivity.
Kenworthy, Mary Anne, et al. 1988 Preserving Field Records: Archival Techniques for
Archaeologists and Anthropologists. The University Museum, University of
Rose, Carolyn, ed. 1992 Conservation Concerns: A Guide for Curators and Collectors.
Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington, D.C.
National Park Service 1998 Conserv O Gram Series. Superintendent of Documents.
U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, DC. Also available in Adobe Acrobat PDF
Ogden, Sherelyn, ed. 1994 Preservation of library and Archival Materials: A Manual.
Northeast Document Conservation Center, Andover. <http://www.nedcc.org>
Ritzenthaler, Mary Lynn 1994 Preserving Archives and Manuscripts. Society of
American Archivists, Chicago.
Van Bogart, John W. C. 1995 Magnetic Tape Storage and Handling: A Guide for
Libraries and Archives. The Commission on Preservation and Access, Washington,
Wilhelm, Henry 1993 The Permanence and Care of Color Photographs. Preservation
Publishing Company, Grinnell, IO.
Also: excellent free pamphlets are available from Gaylord
Brothers and University Products (see
CoPAR Bulletin No. 8, Locating Archival Quality Supplies).
Mary Elizabeth Ruwell
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