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Friday, September 13, 2019

The Ultimate Digital Preservation Guide, Part Thirteen: Damage

Damaged book from the Maryland State Archives
Document damage is inevitable. Even if the documents are not subject to war, floods, earthquakes, or other types of disasters, time itself is the cause of damage. The archival term for the tendency of physical objects to deteriorate is "inherent vice." This is due to the fundamental instability of the components of which they are made, as opposed to deterioration caused by external forces. See Wikipedia: Inherent vice. You can find a relatively complete list of archival and record terms in the following from the website of the Society of American Archivists.

“A Glossary of Archival and Records Terminology | Society of American Archivists.” Accessed September 13, 2019.

Here is a quote from the above-cited Wikipedia article describing the issues:
The term is broadly used in archival practice to recognize the material constraints of preservation activities. For example, many kinds of paper have acid in them that makes them chemically unstable. Over time, the acid will eat away the text on the page and cause paper to turn yellow or brown and become brittle. As the acid continues to break down the cellulose fibers, the paper disintegrates. In the world of philately, the adhesive on the back of stamps is both an inherent vice—any exposure to moisture will compromise their ability to be preserved—as well as the purpose for which the stamps were made. In the case of film, an example of inherent vice is the innate chemical instability of cellulose acetate film, which can result in the degradation known as "vinegar syndrome" due to the distinctive vinegar odor it produces.
Slowing this tendency of objects to self-destruct requires an understanding of how materials interact. This includes not just an understanding of the intrinsic qualities of the materials themselves, but also the way that they affect and are affected by the other materials that they come into contact with. For example, leather and metal are two materials which are frequently used in combination with each other, but react to each other over time to cause corrosion on the metal. 
The presence of deteriorating agents is a problem which can be tempered by selecting archival quality materials, such as acid free paper. However, frequently the objective of manufacturers is to make a process (i.e. papermaking, book binding, etc.) faster and easier; the longevity of the items they produce is not their primary concern.
In short, physical preservation is a never-ending challenge. What this means for anyone wishing to preserve physical object (including paper-based records) is that preservation needs to be proactive. The longer you wait before taking action, the more serious the problems become.

The loss of information due to both external causes and document deterioration is substantial and ongoing. Once the documents are damaged, the cost of restoration can run into the hundreds of dollars per page. The process involved includes cleaning, deacidifying, pressing. frame removal, debacking or dematting, mounting to archival material, mold treatment, retouching, and significant tape removal. See ACA Paper Restoration for an example.

The Preservation Directorate of the Library of Congress lists the following format types that are a concern:

  • Books
  • Paper
  • Photographs
  • Scrapbooks and Albums
  • Newspapers
  • Comic Books
  • Audio-Visual: Grooved Media, Magnetic Tape, and Optical Discs
  • Audio-Visual: Motion Picture Film
  • Asian Bindings
Here are some additional categories of objects:

  • Dishes/Glassware/Silverware
  • Firearms
  • Furniture
  • Jewelry
  • Native American Items
  • Natural History Specimens
  • Textiles/Clothing/Uniforms
  • Tools/Mechanical/Instruments
  • Toys
  • Works of Art

However, the list can go on with other types of physical objects and each type of object has its own peculiarities that mandate different methods of preservation. For more information see the following websites:

“Connecting to Collections Care Online Community.” Accessed September 13, 2019.
“Saving Your Treasures | Netnebraska.Org.” Accessed September 13, 2019.

For a more extensive list see the Saving Your Treasures Resources list. 

The amount of information online about preservation reflects the seriousness of the issues involved. That is why this is an almost endless topic for a blog post series.

Part One:
Part Two:
Part Three:
Part Four:
Part Five:
Part Six:
Part Seven:
Part Eight:
Part Nine:
Part Ten:
Part Eleven:
Part Twelve:

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