Administrative records, Archives, Bradford, Historical documents, Historical photos, Historical research, Photos, Records management, Rio de Janeiro

The work and cost of photo preservation

old photos in drawer

The devastating losses at the national museum in Rio De Janeiro in early September reminded me of the sad state of the Bradford archives I visited in the spring, and the high cost of cultural preservation.

In Rio de Janeiro, hundreds of residents stood outside the shell of their national museum, crying and speaking of intense sadness at the loss which has been blamed on funding cuts in recent years that left the institution with few functioning fire extinguishers and smoke detectors.

The science and practice of conserving museum artifacts and archival records requires knowledgeable staff and expensive storage materials and facilities, an expense not well understood or obvious to the public, and so, easily cut from a budget line.

Documents and artifacts deteriorate at a surprising rate when temperature and humidity are not carefully managed, and in most archives, costly devices are installed to control these conditions and are checked and analyzed frequently.

Conservators working in museums and archives, use their extensive scientific training to tease out solutions to problems of deterioration of photos, paper documents, and other items to make repairs and halt the process of deterioration as much as possible.

Most archives also store documents in expensive acid-free folders and boxes to slow down deterioration of documents from acidity emanating from the paper itself and coming from the surrounding environment.

Some archival collections also hold images that exist only in the form of a glass negative, thick and heavy.  And, of course, fragile; requiring costly and specialized storage and handling conditions all their own.

I don’t know enough about the science to go into the details but I have seen the results and you have too, no doubt, in your own collection of old photos where the colour has washed out from age, or have gotten moldy and stuck together from being kept in a humid place.  Or on documents where the ink has faded altogether, making them virtually useless.

 

 

 

 

 

Administrative records, Archives, Historical documents, Historical research, Library, Record keeping, Records management, Research, Vancouver history

Archival records weren’t created for future researchers

archive image
some archival documents are hand-written in an old style which adds to the challenge of reading them

 

An archives is, often and strictly speaking the records created in the course of the daily work of a business, society, church, club, or government agency or department. 

These records include documents such as letters (correspondence), minutes of meetings, work-flow documents, registrations forms, records of employment. cemetery registries – all that kind of stuff.  

They are the tracking, book-keeping, and monitoring documents created by, for example finance department could  know who to send the property tax assessment to. Or so that plots in different parts of the cemetery were assigned to the next person to be buried there. Or so that the health inspector knew who the owner was if  a customer complained about the cleanliness of a restaurant.
The department or organization that created these records probably had no thought to researchers of the far future who might use them as a means of tracking down relatives,  figuring out the comparative value of land over time, or compiling stats on tuberculosis deaths in a given year. 

They collected information and instructed their staff to manage it based on what that administrative department found most useful or pertinent at the time and for the purpose the records were intended.

They would have been compiled in a way that made sense at the time based on their needs and uses, something that may be unclear or even illogical to a present-day historical researcher.

Documents could have been organized according to address, legal address, or name of an applicant. They could be in chronological order based on the date someone applied for a building permit. Or they might be arranged in some combination of these.

More next Saturday.

 

 

 

 

Administrative records, Archives, Historical documents, Historical research, Library, Record keeping, Records management, Research

An Archive is not a Library

library

Ok – so you’re doing historical research on an issue, person, building, or place and realize you need more specific or unique information than you’ve been able to find in books and on the internet.  

It’s probably time to find out if there’s something in an archival collection that would help.

But what the heck is an archive?

The Oxford English dictionary defines an archive(s) as:

1) A noun

“A collection of historical documents or records providing information about a place, institution, or group of people”

and

2) A  verb “To place or store in an archive”

Archives used to have a very specific meaning – though still obscure and  unfamiliar to most people – and referred to a physical place where original one-of-a-kind physical documents were kept.

But in the past 20 years or so, the term has become muddied because old or obsolete electronic documents are now frequently found within an archives section of webpages, databases, and other digital sites and can refer to  past issues of newsletters and magazines, old or historical emails, databases, websites, and other digital material.

This post, however, is about original kind of archive – the physical place where original (mostly paper) documents are kept. 

Of course the definition of an archive doesn’t necessarily make it easier to understand so I’m going to make a few comparisons with libraries that I think will help make it more clear.

A library is something that most of us are familiar with and have been going to since we were kids – a place to get information about something we’re curious about or need to research. But that’s about where the similarity with archives ends.

A library contains mostly books that have been published which means that there are probably thousands of copies of most books available throughout the world.

You can go to a local library and find the kind of books you want by looking up the author, title, subject, keyword in the online catalogue, or by browsing the shelves within the non-fiction part of the library where other books on a related subject are shelved using some kind of classification scheme. 

You can usually go right over to the shelves and help yourself to the books you’re interested in. You can take as many as you can carry to a table to look at at one time. And you can take most if not all of them home to borrow for a few weeks.

And there isn’t generally a problem with keeping your purse or bag or backpack with you in the library or with using a pen to take notes.

But mostly, you cannot do any of these things in archives.

So now that you have an idea about what an archives isn’t, I’ll delve into more into that in the weeks to come.