Oh! the horror

One of the things I love my job is the history.  Seeing and handling documents that have played a part in our history and were created out of events in history is just a little bit magical.  So it is with an unfortunately familiar medley of astonishment, outrage and disbelief that I occasionally come across pieces of history that have just been utterly neglected.  This is a lesson is preservation.

"Nom nom nom" says the leaky, rusty, metal container in which these deeds were kept.

These are land deeds from the 18th century onwards that are a piece of the puzzle as to who owns what land.  The land would have eventually ended up in the hands of the Co-operative Wholesale Society (CWS).  They are super important to keep safe as they are the evidence of the history of ownership of land – without such evidence, there is nothing you can say to refute any claim made by others to land that you own or use.

These deeds and others were found in an old CWS metal trunk in a basement.  Metal is extremely reactive and can be quite harmful to archives.  It oxidises and rusts, rust eats paper and parchment, these deeds are made of parchment, and so deeds left in a big metal trunk in a basement got gobbled up and have sort of become soldered shut.  These will cost time and money to be able to be opened and read when there are so many preventative precautions you can do to save your documents, and thus save time and money in the long run.

There are certain things that archives do that would be daft to expect everyone to do: removing all metal and plastic fasteners to replace them with intern plastic and brass clips (they decay a lot slower and so don’t eat your paper); having strict environmental controls in the room where documents are kept; using acid-free paper to put with the archive as well as acid free boxes to store them in etc etc.

However, there are definite positives to taking care of your archives, especially if you are a business: it creates a great

The culprit: rusted and stinky.

public image (you are known as the organisation who cares for and is proud of their history); you can use it as a resource for market research (we all learn from the past to create a better future); it can be used for outreach and advertisements (we all love the nostalgia that comes with seeing products from our childhood); you can readily bring up records of importance when they are needed for administration, evidential or legal reasons.

Most of things you can do are really easy.  Here are some basics:

  1. Keep things tidy.  Not only does this help you find your documents but it prevents records from being eaten by the Scylla of “the back of the cabinet” and the Charybdis of “I swear it’s under here somewhere”.
  2. Basic records management – know what you have, why you should keep it and know what you do and don’t need to keep for long-tern retention.
  3. Have a spring clean of your offices every now and then – the cleaner things are and the less stuff you keep that you don’t need, the more control you have over what you do keep.
  4. Try not to store the important things in attics – they leak and you can’t keep your eye on them.
  5. Try not to store the important things in basements – they leak and you can’t keep your eye on them.

There are tons of more things you can do to keep your legacy going by looking after your records.  We can find immortality through our records, but only if we keep them safe.

And it makes my job just that wee bit easier.

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