Archives series: Conservation procedures at the City of Vaughan

We’re doing a mini series that offers a glimpse into how the City of Vaughan preserves its history.

The main role of the City Archives is to manage government records with long-term business value. The City Archives also collects, preserves and makes available for research valuable non-government records from the Vaughan community that document the rich and diverse heritage of the City of Vaughan. For more information, visit the City of Vaughan Archives webpage.

To view images from the City’s archival collections, visit the City of Vaughan’s Facebook page.

Here is the first post in the series:

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Conservation procedures at the City of Vaughan Archives
Records arrive at Archives in many conditions – dirty, ripped, curled, rolled and sometimes even moldy and rotten. With the proper conservation procedures, a record can be restored and preserved.

So, how does Vaughan Archives staff turn a mangled document into a readable, useable record?

Here are some of the conservation techniques used:

  • Document cleaning:a variety of tools are used to remove dust and dirt from records.
  • Document repair: documents are often ripped around the edges or in the creases, especially if they have been folded for a long time. Some can even arrive at Archives torn into pieces or with large holes.
  • Humidification: when a document has become too dry, its fibers tighten and begin to curl. The document could be rolled so tightly that it is impossible to open without causing damage. Humidification is a process we use to incrementally rehydrate the document in a controlled environment.The record is placed in a humidification chamber on top of a grate with distilled water in the bottom. When the chamber is sealed, humidity is trapped and the document absorbs the moisture and the fibers start to relax. The document is then pressed between two sheets of blotting paper to absorb any excess moisture, and the procedure is repeated as needed.
  • Encapsulation: polyester encapsulation protects paper items during storage, handling and exhibition, and prevents physical damage from dust, pollutants and acid migration. The film does not adhere to the document and the procedure, unlike lamination, is completely reversible.
  • Removal of picture frames: in the past, it was common to use nails, staples and other cheap metal fasteners to frame pictures (photographs, some works of art, etc.). The glass in old frames can be brittle and break with even the slightest pressure. Therefore, it is common practice in archives to remove frames from pictures as this conserves space and also prevents the acid in the wood and matting from transferring to the photograph.
  • Protective wear for hazardous materials: depending on the state of documents when they arrive at the facility, the following may be encountered: mold, excrement from rodents, feathers from birds, nests, insects and rodents (live and dead), dirt, dust, strong odours, sharp objects, rusty metal and broken glass.

Conserving documents and making them usable is one of my favourite parts of the job. I never know what physical state I will find a record in until I appraise a donation, and as I start to remove the dirt and repair the tears, the original record emerges.

Please feel free to contact the City of Vaughan Archives, City Clerk’s Office if you have any questions or would like further information about our conservation procedures.

Until next time,

Archival Records Analyst
City of Vaughan Archives
City Clerk’s Office
archives@vaughan.ca

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