The saying ‘prevention is better than cure’ also holds true for your archives and collections. They are usually kept in a safe storage area with enough room and easy access, but you need to be aware of any risks associated with this space. Eliminating these risks can limit any damage, so you should prepare for any potential problems by working out arrangements in a plan. You can find more information about drawing up an emergency plan at Erfgoedwijzer.be (link in Dutch).
Down below we have listed some potential risks and share tips about how to avoid them here. For a more detailed overview of potential damage factors you can visit the Erfgoedwijzer (link in Dutch).
Physical damage (such as breakages, cracking and warping)
Documents and objects are all subject to wear and tear, with some items deteriorating over time or becoming damaged the more they are used. Damage can also be caused by accidents (e.g. falling), incorrect storage (e.g. pressure from stacked items) or improper handling. Paper can tear or warp, and objects can break or crack. Movements, vibrations and jolts or impacts should all be avoided.
- Do not use unstable racks or shelves
- Make sure objects in drawers do not move around when opening and closing
- Leave enough space between objects to allow for inspection
- Try to reduce the number of indoor storage areas – aim to just have one place where you can optimise preservation conditions. This makes it clear for everyone where your archive and collections are kept, and is the easiest way to improve how you to store them
The risk of fire is small, but any loss or damage it might cause (e.g. from soot or smoke) can be devastating. Be aware of the potential impact a fire could have on your archive and collections. Causes:
- Electrical sources: electrical overload, electrical panels and equipment, short circuits, self-ignition, air conditioning, climate systems, overheating or defective appliances, old power cables, dust on power cables
- Flammable materials near a flame
- Construction and restoration works (e.g. welding, soldering, paint stripping)
- Gas leaks
- Avoid the above risk factors in your storage area
- Regularly inspect your electricity and gas infrastructure
Avoid contact with water. Direct contact with water can cause many different – often severe and irreparable – forms of damage. Take elements that can cause water damage into account when designing your archive area.
- Ink and colours bleeding/running
- Blistering paint
- Fungus and mould
- Corrosion of metal components
- Paper, cardboard and wood warping
- Broken water pipe
- Water ingress from a leak in the roof
- Rising damp
- Choose a storage area with minimal risk from water damage – avoid cellars and places with exposed water pipes.
If this is not possible, make sure you check regularly for water leaks.
Theft and vandalism
if the archive area is accessible to anyone, documents can disappear or be stolen. It’s important to lock your desk or working area where archive and collection items are kept when you are not there. Store valuable documents and objects somewhere they can be locked away.
Pests and mould
Insects, pests, rodents and mould can irreparably damage your archive and collections, so it’s important to ensure they are kept away.
- Do not drink or eat in your storage area
- Regularly clean the storage area
- Regularly check for signs of pests
- It’s important to ensure a stable climate with a consistent temperature and humidity to store your heritage items in good conditions and prevent mould
Restrict exposure to light. Both daylight and artificial light can cause damage: discolouration and fading pigments and dyes, weakening of textile fibres and paper, decaying gloss and varnish. These damaging processes happen gradually over time and will become increasingly severe if no appropriate preventive measures are taken. This kind of damage is also irreparable, so it’s essential to limit it as much as possible.
- Choose a place where objects will be least affected by daylight
- Use thick curtains, shutters, blinds or an awning to keep daylight out
- Do not leave any artificial lights switched on unnecessarily
Avoid dirt. Dirt and dust are inevitable, but they affect the appearance of documents and can interfere with readability. Remove any dust and prevent it from accumulating as much as possible. Dirt can be food crumbs, liquid spillages or grease and grime from handling objects and documents, and can result in stains that are impossible to get rid of.
- Carefully dust documents and objects that are not in boxes or on shelves. Dry dust is easy to remove with a duster, brush or vacuum cleaner
- Carefully remove dust from valuable objects and documents and store them in boxes, sleeves or suitable shelves
- Do not eat, drink or smoke in the vicinity of the archive
- Wash your hands before picking anything up
- Avoid using (aggressive) cleaning agents in the vicinity of the archive
Check the temperature and temperature fluctuations. Temperatures that are too low or too high will cause the materials in your archive or collection to deteriorate faster. Temperature fluctuations in particular can result in damage. Heat sources including sunlight can increase the temperature in your archive area.
- Make sure you have a stable temperature with minimal fluctuations. Avoid using lofts where it can be hot in the summer and much colder in the winter
- Ensure a maximum temperature of approx. 18-20°C
Check the air humidity and humidity fluctuations. Air humidity that is too high or low has numerous harmful consequences: mould, metal corrosion, textile shrinkage, organic materials becoming damaged and/or cracking. Fluctuations in the relative humidity cause shrinking, cracking, swelling, loose connections, peeling/flaking paint. A stable climate is important for preserving your heritage in good condition.
- Make sure you have a stable humidity with minimal fluctuations. Avoid lofts where it can be hot and dry in the summer and much colder and more humid in the winter
- Ensure a relative humidity level between 50-55%
- Label your documents correctly and always put them away in the right place
- When you place a book or archive item in the wrong place in a library or archive, it can only be found again by chance
- Loss of information also means loss of value
- Loss through lost labels or stickers
- Loss of digital data
- Loss as a result of incorrect location
- Loss of information can be largely countered by making good arrangements with all staff (e.g. for placement in correct location and correct naming on labels, etc.)
- Put everything back where it originally came from or where it belongs
- Always keep labels and stickers together with the document or object
There is more information available on the Digital Storage page.
Suitable furniture, just like appropriate packaging, helps to limit damage or deterioration of materials. It’s important to choose, install and use furniture correctly according to the type of archive and collection items you want to store – the size, materials and nature of these items play a crucial role here. For an overview of some do’s and don’ts when choosing and installing furniture, please visit Erfgoedwijzer.be (link in Dutch).
- Paper archive documents are best stored in acid-free boxes or storage folders
- We store these acid-free boxes in or on racks with metal shelving
- Wooden shelving is harmful for paper
- Preferably choose metal storage units with a powder coating that has been dried at a high temperature
- Take into account that you need to be able to put documents in the cabinet and take them out again quickly and easily
Among other places, you can find map and drawer cabinets at: