National Archives of Guyana National Archives of Guyana
Ministry of Education
Department of Culture, Youth and sport
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Archiving

The Importance of Archival Documents

Guyana's archival heritage is a chronicle of our collective past and bedrock on which rests our knowledge of many other aspects of our history- the buildings around us, the landscape we see, and the books we read. Our knowledge of almost every aspect of the past is channelled through and dependent upon this collective memory.

Archives have a relevance to every member of the community. The exploration of family "roots" through archives creates a personal involvement with history which is unchallenged in its immediacy and which can both inform and be informed by further exploration of historical sites and avenues through written, oral and visual records.Documents provide a reference base for researchers namely a reference to our shared past.

Preservation of Archival Material

Archival collections are invaluable sources of information. The challenges to preserving artifactual collections are formidable. Books and other printed material deteriorate over time as a result of their inherent chemical instability. For example when pulp reacts with humidity and heat it becomes brittle. Books also deteriorate as a result of mechanical strain.

Until the middle of the nineteenth century, paper was made from linen and cotton rags, which in principle make a strong and durable product.In the 1850's, wood pulp came into general usage for making people more economical. The publishing industry rapidly converted to this process, following the lead of the newspapers, for which wood pulp was a source of inexpensive newsprint.

To prevent inks from running wood pulp paper was treated with aluminium sulphate. The addition of alum and various bleaches, which were usually added during the papermaking process, reacts over time with humidity to produce an acid that breaks down the molecular structure of the cellulose in the wood pulp. This result in papers being brittle losing its flexibility, easily crumbling when handled. In papers with a thin hard finish the page becomes brittle and brown along the edges and can be easily broken along a fold line. Thick pulpy paper tends to separate and almost spontaneously sections can become separated and come loose near the gutter and fall out of the volume.

When paper becomes embrittled, nothing can be done to arrest the decay.For this reason photocopying and microfilming are the most practical preservation options for collections of newspapers. All photocopying should be done on low lignin, buffered paper using an electronic copier with heat fused images. In other cases torn paper artifacts can be repaired o5r reinforced with sheets or strips of strong almost transparent, acid free paper, adhered with a strong, colourless water-based adhesive that is acid free and easily reversed.The preferred repair papers are made in Japan from kozo fibres, they are often referred to as rice papers.They are ideal for repairs because they do not become embrittled or discolour over time and have long, flexible fibres which produce a long lasting repair and since they are translucent they will not obscure the text of the document.

Many paper items that are not yet embrittled can have their lifespan expanded through preventative maintenance. Books in particular should be never be stored directly against walls but rather be shelved at least three inches away from walls to allow for the circulation of air around books and to avoid the occurrence of pockets of damp air. In addition books should be held upright on shelves. They should not be allowed to lean on one side or the other because of the strain that such action places on the bindings.

For paper collections only objects of the same size and category should be stored together. Differences in bulk and weight create a potential for physical damage, so it is not advisable to store single sheets in the same box with books or pamphlets.All documents should be housed in acid free-buffered file folders or boxes.They should be stored flatly as this will provide overall support and will prevent crumbling edges, slumping and other mechanical damage to which upright storage might subject them.

Oversized materials such as architectural drawings, maps, blue prints and other large printers are best stored in the drawers of map cases or in large covered boxes. For photographs it is best for each item to have its own enclosure. This reduces damage to the photograph by giving it protection and physical support.Clear plastic enclosures have the advantage of allowing researchers to view the image without handling it, thus reducing the possibility of scratching or abrasion.Once materials are properly housed they should be stored in flat in drop-front boxes of archival quality.

 

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