The National Register of Archives for Scotland (NRAS) was set up in 1946 to compile a record of collections of private papers in Scotland, to encourage their care and to make information about them available to researchers and others.
Today, Dr Alison Rosie of NRAS provides some helpful advice on how you can preserve your own family papers…
- Do keep your books and papers in a cool, dry atmosphere where they aren’t exposed to light.
- Do keep your papers in envelopes & boxes to provide secondary protection. You should avoid polythene bags and sleeves and be wary of anything that describes itself as “archival quality” – unless it’s been recommended by a conservator or by your local archivist.
- Photographs are very vulnerable and you should handle them as little as possible, ideally while wearing gloves and being careful to avoid touching the face of the print to ensure finger marks and grease are not deposited on the surface.
- Avoid storing photographs in polypockets or in photograph albums with stickyback sleeves: these will speed up the deterioration of your photographs.
- If you’re storing photographs, do write a note with details of the document’s subject and the names of any people featured, and keep this with photographs.
- Do not frame manuscripts, maps or documents and be aware that light can be very damaging and irreversibly fade your record. If you want to keep a document on display, it’s always better to use a photographic copy of the original document.
- Do not write on your papers or books in anything except a soft pencil – and even then, only if you have to. If you have to write notes, it’s best to write these on the folder or envelope the document is stored in.
- Never – ever! – use Sellotape or any other pressure sensitive tapes. If paper becomes torn, seek advice from a professionally trained conservator or keep the document and any pieces together in an envelope or folder until you can do so.
- Do be aware scanning and photocopying can be very damaging to old books and papers. You should be especially careful with scanning of photographic glass plates.
- Don’t try to do your own repairs to damaged documents without proper training – always seek help and advice from a professionally trained conservator. The Conservation Register is a great source of information on conservation across the disciplines and holds a register of conservators throughout the UK.
If you’d like to find out more about looking after your own archives, NRAS’ Preservation Guidelines includes lots of tips and links that can assist.
And if you find lots of old letters, diaries and papers during a lockdown spring clean and you’re wondering what to do with them, you can contact the National Register of Archives for Scotland for guidance on private archives.
Dr Alison Rosie
National Records of Scotland