Preservation of Documents

Conservation of Material

The purpose of archives is to acquire and index documents and then to store them permanently and safely. Conservation measures include ensuring appropriate storage of the archived materials, e.g. providing suitable climatic conditions and using the right packaging material, covering the material with film and protecting the items while they are used in the Reading Room or presented at exhibitions.
For instance, once an item has been accepted by the Institute, we remove any material that might cause damage. Files are “demetallised” and packaged into special protective folders and boxes. The purpose of these measures is to ensure that nothing can harm those items. If, however, we do encounter damage, the relevant item is given appropriate treatment at our in-house Restoration Workshop. This facility, which has been in place at our office in Borsigallee since 2006, is staffed by two restorers and one bookbinder. The team deals exclusively with the Institute’s own items.

Repairs

© Institut für Stadtgeschichte, Foto: Corinna Herrmann© Institut für Stadtgeschichte, Foto: Corinna Herrmann

It has been a well-known fact for more than 200 years now that repairs cost money.


The Restoration Workshop coordinates preventative measures and deals with any damage that has occurred.

Packaging

© Institut für Stadtgeschichte, Foto: Eva Hergesell© Institut für Stadtgeschichte, Foto: Eva Hergesell

A lot of damage can be prevented through robust protective packaging and by treating each item with care.


Fragile treasures from days gone by often reach our premises in a damaged state, caused partly by improper storage and partly by careless handling. Damage (e.g. cracks, bends and gaps) can have two main types of causes: over-use and poor storage conditions.

Often, however, an item also displays chemical damage, e.g. disintegration of the paper structure caused by mould resulting from water damage. In such cases the material needs to be dried and then thoroughly dry-cleaned.

Mould

© Institut für Stadtgeschichte, Foto: Corinna Herrmann© Institut für Stadtgeschichte, Foto: Corinna Herrmann

Active infestation by microorganisms can be tested by creating a culture.


As we receive a large volume of archived material that needs to be made accessible for users again, we have developed several new restoration techniques. One of them can be described as “fibre touch-up” and involves adding fresh pulp to any gaps in the fibre structure. In this way we can patch and glue up any number and shapes of flaws in the paper by adding fresh fibre. Moreover, the process takes a relatively short period of time. The result is that the paper gains in firmness and can be released for use again.

Fibre touch-up: before

© Institut für Stadtgeschichte, Foto: Sigrid Roßmann© Institut für Stadtgeschichte, Foto: Sigrid Roßmann

Paper pulp is poured into the gaps, and the overall structure is glued up and dried under pressure.



Fibre touch-up: during

© Institut für Stadtgeschichte, Foto: Sigrid Roßmann© Institut für Stadtgeschichte, Foto: Sigrid Roßmann

Paper pulp is poured into the gaps, and the overall structure is glued up and dried under pressure.


Fibre touch-up: dried

© Institut für Stadtgeschichte, Foto: Corinna Herrmann© Institut für Stadtgeschichte, Foto: Corinna Herrmann

Paper pulp is poured into the gaps, and the overall structure is glued up and dried under pressure.



Damage can have a variety of causes. One culprit that has acquired proverbial fame is the bookworm – which is really a beetle larva. The damage looks a bit like a maze. Sometimes it takes several years for a bookworm to leave its “tasty” home in order to find a mate. However, if the climate conditions in an archive are sufficiently stable, such pests have very little chance of survival.




Bookworm

© Institut für Stadtgeschichte, Foto: Corinna Herrmann© Institut für Stadtgeschichte, Foto: Corinna Herrmann

The beetle – known as “bookworm” – is only about 3 mm in length and is therefore easily overlooked.



The worst damage is always caused by fire or water. Quite a few archives have fallen victim to fire. Although it is true that books are less flammable than wooden bookshelves, this only applies if books form a compact row on a shelf. Parchment, another widespread material in archives, does not go up in flames straightaway. Instead, it shrinks so much and so quickly under the impact of heat that it loses its shape altogether and becomes illegible. In such cases the available restoration options tend to be rather limited.

Parchment fire

© Institut für Stadtgeschichte, Foto: Anne-Sophie Stümpert© Institut für Stadtgeschichte, Foto: Anne-Sophie Stümpert

Parchment which has shrunk and become deformed after a fire.


There’s more to archives than paper. Sometimes archiving means finding suitable packaging for unusual objects, such as a globe, a guitar or – in this case – a file that was used in a 19th-century jailbreak.

File

© Institut für Stadtgeschichte, Foto: Corinna Herrmann© Institut für Stadtgeschichte, Foto: Corinna Herrmann

A rusty file that played a role in a court case and therefore had to be kept among the court records.



In some cases the damage started as early as the manufacturing process. One reason may be that money was saved on the quality of the paint, or the manufacturers did not have enough experience in using it. Another element that often causes problems is the poor storage conditions of past centuries. Paintings with thick layers of paint are particularly vulnerable, as they tend towards cracks and flakiness.

A layer of paint

© Institut für Stadtgeschichte, Foto: Corinna Herrmann© Institut für Stadtgeschichte, Foto: Corinna Herrmann

Reinforcing a layer of paint on a family tree.