Preservation of Archival Records: Foreword

The National Archives, as the keeper of the records of the federal government from its beginning in 1774, has in its care the largest accumulation of original documents in the United States. Among the holdings are records on nearly every known recording medium: manuscript, typewritten, and printed text on paper; engrossed documents on parchment; printed maps with pencil or pen and ink annotations; manuscript maps on paper, parchment, and bark; still pictures on paper, glass, metal, and plastic film; aerial photographs and lantern slides; architectural and engineering drawings and blueprints; watercolor paintings; motion picture film in black and white and color; sound recordings on nearly every medium since the copper wire; and machine-readable records from many electronic data processing systems.

As a result, the National Archives has encountered nearly every conceivable archival problem in one form or another, whether in the realm of description, preservation, archival control, or reference. We have learned much from other archives and libraries that have confronted the same problems and have reported their solutions in the professional literature, and we too wish to make available to other repositories the results of our experience with particular problems and their solutions.

Accordingly, from time to time, the National Archives issues Technical Information Papers (TIPs) describing work going on in its various departments, in the hope that our experience will be equally useful to others in the profession. Comments on the contents of any TIP will be welcome. If the TIPs generate dialogue in the profession, they will serve a good purpose.

Don W. Wilson

Archivist of the United States


Holdings maintenance is the term used by the National Archives to describe a range of basic preservation procedures designed to prolong the life of archival records by providing a stable storage environment. The following guidelines provide information on storage containers, techniques for marking enclosures, methods for storing loose and bound records and oversize materials, techniques for removing fasteners, and preservation supplies. The National Archives is committed to improving the conditions under which archival records are stored and handled, both to meet long-term preservation goals for the safekeeping of permanently valuable records and to defer the need for expensive laboratory treatment.

The illustrations interspersed through the text were drawn by Elissa O'Loughlin.