Preservation at the National Archives
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Preservation Programs consists of two organizational units that are responsbile for the physical well being of Federal records in the custody of the National Archives and Records Administration. They are the Document Conservation Laboratory and the Special Media Preservation Laboratory.
What is Preservation?
Preservation encompasses the activities which prolong the usable life of archival records. Preservation activities are designed to minimize the physical and chemical deterioration of records and to prevent the loss of informational content.
The Document Conservation Laboratory prolongs the usable life of records in their original format by performing the following conservation activities:
- repairs and stabilizes textual records (un-bound papers, bound volumes, and cartographic items) and photographic images among the holdings of the National Archives and provides custom housings for these records as needed.
- monitors the environmental conditions in Archives' buildings in the Washington, DC, area;
- provides preservation training to Archives employees, contractors, and vendors who handle records;
- provides for the preservation of documents on exhibit in the Washington, DC, facilities; and, furnishes technical advice and assistance to ensure the preservation of items lent for exhibition.
Also, the Research and Testing Lab, which is part of the Conservation Lab, conducts a preservation science program that includes writing specifications for and providing quality assurance testing of those materials used to prolong the useful life of records (e.g., folders and boxes) and of materials that will be used in the proximity of records (e.g., storage furniture, paint, and cleaning supplies); implementing basic research into preservation issues; and, evaluating specific preservation approaches.
What is Conservation?
Conservation attempts to preserve records in their original format. Conservators examine records and assess their condition and the materials which comprise them. Conservators then recommend remedial treatments to arrest deterioration or to improve condition. As they perform the recommended treatments, conservators carefully document the condition of the record as well as the procedures performed and materials used.
The Special Media Preservation Laboratory is responsible for reformatting and duplicating records created on textual and nontextual formats, including:
- duplicating motion picture film, still photos, microfilm, and sound and video recordings;
- microfilming paper records;
- reformatting audio and video recordings in obsolete formats that cannot be used on currently-available playback equipment; and,
- generating digital images of records.
These program activities result in the removal of fragile records from use, while still providing access to their informational content by capturing the information in a new format.
Additionally, Preservation Programs provides preservation-related support services for all of the National Archives and Records Administration, such as:
- writing and reviewing preservation policies and regulations;
- writing, and if necessary, implementing, disaster plans for records storage facilities;
- administering an integrated pest management program;
- providing training regarding the proper implementation of preservation policies and procedures to NARA staff, other Federal agency employees, and the public;
- ensuring that storage environments are designed and maintained to prolong the life of records according to media type;
- monitoring and maintaining the condition of the Charters of Freedom encasements and vault mechanisms; and,
- convening and coordinating meetings of the agency's Advisory Committee on Preservation; and
- hosting the annual Preservation Conference.
The preservation staff at the National Archives works together with the archivists to preserve the permanently valuable records of the Federal Government. Successful preservation efforts are part of the fulfillment of the agency's mission "to ensure ready access to essential evidence…that documents the rights of American citizens, the actions of federal officials, and the national experience."