National Archives Preservation Guidelines for Vendors Handling Records and Historical Materials

The following instructions provide guidance on the proper handling of still pictures, aerial film, maps, and drawings that NARA will make available for copying at vendor work stations. Only vendor staff who have received NARA preservation training will be permitted to handle National Archives records and historical materials. Vendors should be prepared to provide whatever staff is required to handle oversize records.

  1. General Requirements
    1. No records may be removed by vendor staff from the vendors' work room.
    2. All records must be returned to NARA staff at the end of each work day.
    3. Smoking, drinking, and eating are not permitted in the room where the work stations are located. No food or liquids are permitted in the work space.
    4. Hands must be clean and free from any substance that could stain or damage records or their containers. This includes food, ink, toner, tobacco, hand lotion, and "Tacky Finger" or similar products.
    5. Only pencils may be used near records or records containers (such as boxes, folders, sleeves). Ballpoint pens, felt tip pens, markers, and similar items are not permitted.
    6. Writing upon records or their containers with pencils or any other implement is prohibited.
    7. Self-stick notes (e.g., "Post-It Notes") may not be applied to records or their containers.
    8. No adhesive tapes may be applied to records or their containers.
    9. A clear and clean "landing surface" (table or work surface) must always be available as records or their containers are being handled and moved about at the work station. The table must be larger than the records. No part of a record may overhang the work surfaces (tables, desks, scanner platens, etc.).
    10. Records or their containers may never be placed on the floor. They must remain on tables, carts, or work surfaces.
    11. Nothing may be placed on top of records or their containers. This includes but is not limited to such objects as equipment, notebooks, order forms, books, pencils, and computer discs.
    12. Resting or leaning upon, sitting upon, or otherwise exerting pressure on records or their containers is prohibited.
    13. To protect records from excessive light exposure, records must be covered or kept in closed boxes or folders at all times except when being copied, photographed or scanned.
    14. Records must be kept in their original order and returned to their original folders or containers after copying. Only one item at a time should be removed from its folder or container (except where slides are batch processed in slide scanners).
    15. All pull or tracking slips must remain with the records, their folders and/or containers.

  2. Handling Individual Records
    1. The vendor shall report any items which in his or her judgment cannot be safely copied and seek further guidance from NARA staff in attendance. These include brittle or breaking items, warped or distorted objects, flaking surfaces, items that will not unroll or unfold easily or that start to crack or break when unrolled or unfolded, and records with extremely weak fold lines or adhering together due to oozing adhesives or tapes.
    2. Records must be handled carefully as they are removed from boxes, folders, sleeves, envelopes, and other records containers. The container or enclosure must be resting on a flat work surface, and then opened to remove the record. When handling the records, they must be supported underneath with two hands, folder stock, or paperboard provided by NARA. Items shall not be grasped by one hand or lifted by one edge or corner.
    3. Records shall not be dragged across other records or against surfaces (such as tables or equipment) that might abrade them.
    4. Small groups of folders or sleeves of the same size may be stacked on top of one another, as long as the height of the stack does not put records in jeopardy of falling. Unlike sizes must not be stacked.
    5. Dusting records is permitted using clean soft brushes, blower bulbs, anti-static brushes, and compressed air when approved in advance by NARA. Dusting techniques may not be used on records that have flaking surfaces or easily smudged surfaces such as pencil lines. Records must be resting on a flat work surface during dusting. Dusting shall be done from the center of the record outwards. Vacuum cleaners or mini vacs may not be used.
    6. Clean white cotton, nylon or unpowdered latex or vinyl gloves must be worn when handling photographs and any other record specified by NARA staff. Gloves may also be worn when handling encapsulated or sleeved documents to avoid fingerprinting of the plastic that might then show up in the copy or scanned image file.
    7. Records may never be removed from their sealed encapsulations. Sealed encapsulations are preservation enclosures for fragile records.
    8. Records in polyester sleeves ("L-sleeves") shall not be removed from sleeves for copying or scanning unless authorized by NARA staff. Sleeving is a protective preservation enclosures for fragile documents!
    9. Photographs are often housed in plastic "pocket" pages (e.g., slide pages, pages for other photo formats) or in plastic sleeves for convenient storage and viewing. Photographs may be removed from any of these enclosures except where the photographs are too fragile to be handled safely without the sleeve. Photographs shall be returned to their pocket pages in original order and in a consistent and correct viewing orientation.
    10. Glass plate negatives may not be put under pressure. They are not always perfectly flat or may have hairline cracks, resulting in breakage when pressure is applied.
    11. Negatives must be returned to their envelopes with the emulsion side away from the glued seam. (Refer to attached handout describing proper orientation).
    12. Rolls of film must be rewound with the emulsion side in on their original spool.
    13. Vendors may not splice film (aerial or other sheet/roll formats). Extremely weak or broken film must be reported to NARA staff.
    14. Aerial film fed through automatic viewers shall not be wound at high speed--aerial film frequently has old splices that are failing and may break if the film is wound too fast.
    15. Records that are distorted or those mounted on stiff (unflexible), brittle boards that are warped shall not be forced flat. Slightly distorted records and warped mount boards that appear to be flexible and sturdy may be flattened safely only after testing for flexibility by gently pressing opposite edges down slightly. Before forcing any distorted record or warped mount board flat under scanner lids, verify that it is safe to do so with NARA staff.
    16. Records may not be backrolled or backfolded in attempts to open and flatten them. Folded records may be carefully unfolded by gently pressing the folds with fingertips. These records must be refolded in their original fold orientation.
    17. Records ranging in size from 24" x 36" to 36" x 48" must be handled using a support board. Records 36" x 48" and larger must be handled by two people; a support board may also be necessary. NARA monitors may provide assistance only in emergency situations.
    18. All unencapsulated records, whether flat or rolled, must be placed within a polyester lead (provided by NARA) before being fed through oversize copiers or scanners.
    19. The following types of records must be fully encapsulated or fully sleeved before being fed through scanners or oversize copiers: folded, torn, tissue-type or light-weight papers.
    20. Two people are required to unroll records that are oversize or that are tightly rolled. NARA monitors may provide assistance only in emergency situations.
    21. Rolled paper records shall be unrolled carefully and rewound or rolled up as soon as the copying is finished.

  3. Equipment
    1. Equipment platens or copy boards shall be the same size or larger than the records. No part of a record may overhang the platen or copyboard.
    2. No part of the equipment shall come in contact with records in a manner that causes friction, abrasion, or that otherwise crushes or damages records.
    3. Light sources may not raise the surface temperature of the record being copied. Light sources that generate ultraviolet light must be filtered.
    4. All equipment surfaces must be clean and dry before being used with records. Cleaning and equipment maintenance activities may not take place when records are present. Aerosols or ammonia-containing cleaning solutions are not permitted. A 50/50 water and isopropyl alcohol solution is permitted for cleaning.
    5. An acrylic sheet (such as Plexiglas) or glass may be used to lightly flatten slightly curled or folded records. Edges of these sheets must be polished, and the sheets may not be cleaned with sprays or fluids when records are present.
    6. Magnets or weights may be used to hold records flat. Magnets or weights may be placed only in border, non-image areas of the records, and must not have exposed metal parts.
    7. Automatic feed devices shall not be used, except for aerial film (aerial film viewers, etc.). Drum scanners shall not be used. Pass-through scanners and photocopiers must not damage records.
    8. Film holders with pronged clips may not be used.

  4. Inspection and Training
    1. NARA staff shall have the right to inspect, without notice, the vendor work stations and copying procedures, and to be present at all times when records are being utilized. Vendors are encouraged to consult NARA staff for clarification of these procedures or when any difficulties or problems arise.
    2. NARA will provide training on handling records and certify vendor staff. Only certified vendor staff will be permitted to handle records; NARA will maintain a list of such individuals. Additional training will be provided as needed.
    3. These preservation guidelines will be revised as necessary by NARA.

NWTD/ revised 2/1998

Correct Orientation of Photographic Film--for housing and scanning

The image reads correctly through the base side. Copy negatives or transparencies may be reversed depending on the copying method used i.e., emulsion-to-emulsion copying (more typical) or emulsion-to-base copying. Look for notch codes, imprints, or correct-reading writing that may be evident on the original image to verify its correct orientation. Rehouse the copy according to its correct orientation described below:

For housing films in envelopes with seams, the emulsion side should face away from the seam side of envelopes (that is, the base side is against the seams).

In general, the emulsion side appears slightly more matte when compared to the base side. However, films that have an anti-curl layer (gelatin coating) on the base side or color films in general may appear equally matte or shiny on both the emulsion and base side. In color films, the emulsion side may have a slight surface relief when viewed in raking light. There are more accurate methods to determine base from emulsion:

Roll Films (2-1/4, 35mm, slides, etc.) Manufacturer imprinted info (such as safety, Tri-X, Kodak, Estar, frame numbers) will read correctly from the base side.

Sheet films with notch codes The emulsion will be facing up, base side will be facing away when the notch code is oriented so that it is located in the lower right (film held horizontally, landscape orientation) or upper right corner (film held vertically, portrait orientation).

Sheet films without notch codes (film packs or trimmed film) Manufacturer imprints (photographically printed) will generally read correctly from the base side. Manufacturer embossed or etched information (such as safety, nitrate) will generally read correctly from the emulsion side. Embossed information is more common on older films.

Deterioration clues may verify one of the above methods. Silver mirroring--visible as a silver sheen overall, in patches, or small dots--occurs only on the emulsion side. Oxidation spots (red or yellow dots) also occur only on the emulsion side. In deteriorated acetate film, the emulsion will be opaque black (or grey values of the image) and wrinkly while the base side remains clear (and occasionally wrinkly), sometimes with white crystals visible underneath.