Preservation

H. Fastened Documents

  1. No attempt should be made to separate documents that are held together by paper or wax seals or wafers, or that are adhesively attached with lines or dots of paste or glue. If such items must be separated to allow for the safe handling, use, or filming of the records, they should be sent to a conservation laboratory where the removal can be accomplished safely without damaging the surface of the paper or losing written information. In some instances, a seal or wafer is integral to the integrity of a document and may contain important information and, therefore, should not be removed.
  2. Ribbon lacings or ties, which historically were used to unite sheets of paper and are sometimes associated with paper or wax seals, should not be removed.
  3. Metal slide fasteners (with a prong base, compressor, and two slide locks-such as Acco fasteners), office-quality paper clips and staples, rubber bands, spring or binder clips, straight pins, colored cloth tape, and similar devices used to unite permanently valuable archival records should be evaluated from a preservation perspective. Such fasteners often cause physical or chemical damage to records and should be removed when appropriate. Fasteners should be removed when records have high intrinsic value or are brittle, or when the fasteners have deteriorated and are causing obvious damage to records. Many metal fasteners rust, causing permanent staining and weakening of paper. Bulky fasteners, such as spring clips, can distort paper records and keep them from lying flat. Weak paper can break when it is flexed against the sharp, rigid edges of slide fasteners, paper clips, and similar devices, which function as cutting edges. Rubber bands lose their elasticity over time, become hard, and adhere to the surface of paper. Red cloth tape, often used to tie or wrap bundles of documents, can cause edges of brittle or weak paper to break; the red dye in the tape is also very water-soluble and can cause permanent staining of records in the event of a water-related disaster.
  4. Stainless steel paper clips are the preferred fastener for holding archival records together, if the paper is strong and will not suffer from the pressure of the clip. If stainless steel paper clips are used, small strips of archival bond paper (ca. 1" wide and 3" long) should be folded in half and placed over the top edges of the documents to serve as a support for the paper clip. ( See Supply List.) Paper clips may be positioned at various points along the upper edge of documents, to avoid excess bulk at corners and the lopsided distortion of folders. Plastic paper clips, though often made of a stable plastic, should not be used because they clamp too tightly and exert too much pressure on weak paper; they also break easily.
  5. Non-corrosive, rustproof staples are acceptable in instances when paper records are strong and flexible. They should not be used on records of high intrinsic value or on records that are weak and brittle. Staples create small puncture holes in documents and since staples are removed and replaced periodically for photocopying or other purposes, a large number of holes can result, with the effect of weakening the paper. When staples are used, they should be positioned through strips of archival bond paper as described above, to help support and protect the documents.( See Supply List)
  6. Strips of archival bond paper serve a useful function in addition to the primary goal of protecting weak paper. Use of the strips in conjunction with a fastener signifies that the paper clip or staple employed meets archival standards and does not have to be replaced. This becomes increasingly important with the passage of time as institutional memory fades, since it is often impossible to differentiate between office and archival quality fasteners on the basis of visual inspection.
  7. In some instances, paper records are too fragile to safely bear the pressure of either paper clips or staples. In such cases, groups of records should be maintained together through the use of folders or folded interleaving sheets (made of archival bond paper) placed within folders.
  8. Fasteners should never be placed on photographs, posters, or original art work, as they can permanently damage the image layer.
  9. In some instances, fasteners, such as grommets, may be so firmly embedded in the paper that it is best to leave them in place. Attempts to remove such objects may result in a great deal of damage to the surrounding paper. If embedded or strongly-adhered fasteners must be removed for microfilming or other purposes, the records should be sent to a conservation laboratory where removal can be effected safely.
  10. Great care must be exercised when removing old fasteners to avoid damaging paper records. Fasteners that have rusted or become strongly adhered to paper surfaces must be gently lifted; before removal, the line of contact between the paper and any encrusted rust must be broken. (See paragraph 13.)
  11. When removing fasteners, the document should be fully supported on a table, and one hand should be placed on the document to hold it in position and support the paper while the fastener is being removed. If the procedure is conducted in mid-air, documents are likely to be torn and damaged.
  12. Staple removers should not be used on fragile or brittle documents, as they easily remove an entire weak or brittle corner with the intended staple. A staple remover can be used with care, however, on paper that is strong and flexible; this is often a practical necessity when faced with masses of archival records needing processing. When using a staple remover, the document must be supported flat on a table top. The staple remover should be used from the back to lift the shanks of the staple. Once opened, the staple should be carefully removed from the front.
  13. A microspatula should be used to remove fasteners from documents that are weak, thin, or brittle. Working from the back, a microspatula can be used to carefully lift the shanks of staples or similar metal fasteners, as well as paper clips. (See Figure 5.) As a precaution, it is advisable, when possible, to slip a small piece of polyester film under the staple before removing it, to prevent the microspatula from slipping and cutting into the paper. Encrusted rust, which could impede removal of a fastener, should be removed mechanically if possible, carefully using a microspatula to gently chip away at the rust to break the line of contact with the paper. Hardened and encrusted rubber bands also can be removed in this fashion. Any flicking or lifting motion to remove encrusted particles from the surface of paper must be undertaken very cautiously to avoid tearing the sheet or skinning the surface of the paper.

    Figure 5

    Hands removing staple from a document.

    When removing staples, keep the document flat on a table surface and do not allow it to hang over the table edge. Hold the document firmly in position with a clean hand to keep it from shifting. Working from the reverse of the document, place a small strip of polyester film under the staple to protect the surface of the paper from being torn or abraded. Carefully insert a microspatula under one shank of the fastener and gently lift it. Similarly, lift the other shank. Then turn the document over and remove the staple. Place the staples removed in a small container to prevent them from inadvertently puncturing other documents.

  14. Paper cups or similar receptacles should be used to collect all fasteners as they are removed. This practice prevents accidental damage that may result if records are placed at a work station covered with fasteners and miscellaneous debris.

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The U.S. National Archives and Records Administration
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