National Preservation Week, April 24 - April 30

 In 2005 the first comprehensive national survey of the condition and preservation needs of the nation’s collections reported that U.S. institutions hold more than 4.8 billion items. (By the way, the BDC participated in the 2005 survey.) 

Libraries alone hold 3 billion items (63% of the whole). A treasure trove of uncounted additional items is held by individuals, families, and communities. These collections include books, manuscripts, photographs, prints and drawings, and objects such as maps, textiles, paintings, sculptures, decorative arts, and furniture, to give just a sample. They include moving images and sound recordings that capture performing arts, oral history, and other records of our creativity and history. Digital collections are growing fast, and their formats quickly become obsolescent, if not obsolete.

In 2010, the American Library Association organized the first Preservation Week with the support of the Association for Library Collections and Technical Services, Preservation and Reformatting SectionLibrary of CongressInstitute of Museum and Library Services American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic WorksSociety of American Archivists ; and, Heritage Preservation. Each of these organizations includes reputable information about preservation. Please visit their websites.

Q: Why is preservation important? 
A: Some 630 million items in collecting institutions require immediate attention and care. 80% of these institutions have no paid staff assigned responsibility for collections care; 22% have no collections care personnel at all. Some 2.6 billion items are not protected by an emergency plan. As natural disasters of recent years have taught us, these resources are in jeopardy should a disaster strike. Personal, family, and community collections are equally at risk.

Environmental factors, such as light, heat, moisture, and pollutants can cause serious and irreparable harm to books, photographs, documents, works of art, and artifacts. 

Because money is always an issue, and "A stitch in time saves nine," we concentrate on low cost (or no cost) ways to mitigate harm to our collections. Prevention is always better than intervention. Some of the basic prevention methods are as relevant to private collections as they are for institutional collections. 

Light can be dangerous for cultural heritage materials. Ultraviolet rays from natural and artificial sources can cause fading and disintegration. 

Q: What do we do here in the BDC Research Room to be good stewards of the materials entrusted into our safekeeping? 

A: We limit UV emissions from our light fixtures. 
A: We cut off our lights when we don’t need them. Our storage area is kept dark except when staff is actively retrieving materials for customers to use.
A: We do not have windows in our materials storage area. 

Q: What can you do at home?

A: Keep your precious photographs and documents away from the windows.
A: Keep your precious photographs and documents and away from bright lamps. 
Bottom line: You don't want to expose the photographs to unnecessary light. As a rule of thumb, "cool and dim" is better than "warm and bright." 

Heat can be dangerous for cultural heritage materials. High temperatures can accelerate deterioration. 

Q: What do we do here in the BDC Research Room to be good stewards of the materials entrusted into our safekeeping? 

A: With Facilities Management personnel, we monitor the heat and humidity of our area all the time, making adjustments as conditions warrant. We strive for a fairly constant environment of between 68 – 72 degrees, 45% to 55% relative humidity at all times. This ensures that the rate of deterioration occurs more slowly. This is why you see staff and often our visitors in sweaters regardless of the season! 

Q: What can you do at home?

A: Do not store precious family photographs or papers in the attic, crawl space, or garage. 

Consider storing family photographs and papers in an acid-free enclosures and boxes in an interior hallway closet, away from exterior doors and walls. The temperature and humidity inside the closet should be stable over time. 

If you are using plastic sleeves, make certain that the sleeves are inert plastic (Melinex, Mylar, polyethylene) which pass the Photo Activity Test.

Moisture can be dangerous for cultural heritage materials. High humidity promotes mold growth, corrosion, and degradation, while excessive dryness can cause drying and cracking. Fluctuations between extremes can cause warping, buckling and flaking.

Q: What do we do here in the BDC Research Room to be good stewards of the materials entrusted into our safekeeping?

A: We monitor humidity at all times and make adjustments as necessary to halt conditions conducive to mold growth or which can cause our photographic materials to dry out.
A: We moved to the 2nd floor to rise above the flood plane.
A: We look up whenever there is a rainstorm – to make certain that our roof isn’t leaking.

Q: What can you do at home?
A: Don't store anything directly on the floor. Water damage caused by broken water pipes is far more likely than water damage caused by hurricanes or floods. 
A: Make sure your storage spot isn't under any water pipes, too. 

Pollutants can be dangerous to cultural heritage materials. Dust is abrasive and can accelerate harmful chemical reactions. 

Q: What do we do here in the BDC Research Room to be good stewards of the materials entrusted into our safekeeping?

A: Before the collection was relocated, each item was carefully cleaned and dusted with a Nilfisk vacuum specifically designed for use in library and museum collections.
A: A dusting and inventory schedule is observed.

Q: What can you do at home?
Gently dust books and papers with a soft brush or static cloth. 

Lack of knowledge can be dangerous to cultural heritage materials.

Q: What do we do here in the BDC to encourage good stewardship of cultural heritage materials? 

A: We attend workshops and webinar on the best way to take care of our materials. 

A: We write blog entries, such as this one or the others under the topic "Preservation Techniques," about how to care for cultural heritage materials.

A: We hold programs about how to care for certain types of family treasures. (The most recent program was March 23rd - "Photos for Future Generations" by Sandy Dimke held in the BDC@ The Branches series).

A: We talk to community groups interested in learning more about specific preservation techniques when asked.

About the Author

Grace Cordial has been responsible for the day-to-day operation of the Beaufort District Collection at the Beaufort County Library since 1999.  The Beaufort District Collection exists to acquire, preserve, maintain and make accessible a research collection of permanent value which records the history, culture, and environment of our part of the South Carolina lowcountry.  Besides the research room, Cordial manages the “Virtual BDC:” the BDC web pages, the Online Obituary Index, two digital collections, a new BDC.BCL Facebook page, and the Connections blog.  
Among her duties is to coordinate or present programs about local history, Gullah culture, and our coastal environment, including occasional instructional sessions about how to perform historical and/or genealogical research.