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As part of the first Preservation Week (May 9-15) I attended a webinar hosted by the ALCTS (Association for Library Collections and Technical Services) Section of ALA. Preservation Week was held by ALA to encourage preserving personal, family and community collections. The title of this webinar was: Archival 101: Dealing with Suppliers of Archival Products.

Peter Verheyen, Head of Preservation and Conservation, at Syracuse University presented this workshop. Peter runs The Bonefolder, an online book arts journal and The Book Arts Web, an online resource for bookbinders and book artists. He spent time discussing ambiguous terms such as ‘archival’ and ‘acid-free.’ Verheyn says that “archival” is a hard to define term- it refers to the materials, the adhesive and the binding structure of a book. However, it is largely a marketing term. It can refer to almost any paper material. The primary issues in paper preservation are poor environment, poor storage methods, rough handling that leads to damage, disaster preparedness issues and the quality of the artifacts themselves. To solve these preservation issues, proper storage (binders, enclosures, boxes, etc.), the proper environment and proper repairs help materials last. One of the most common terms is “acid-free.” This means the paper and board has a near neutral pH level. In addition to using acid-free materials, boxes protect materials from light and dust and from handling damage. Buffered materials have an agent in them with keeps them near pH neutral (7.0). These materials will eventually absorb acid from air and dust and will become acidic over time. Lignin is a part of plant material used to make paper. Lignin is what accelerates the aging of newsprint and some other paper materials and makes them acidic. Lignin should be avoided in paper based materials.

Tapes and Glue Sticks should be avoided. Use Filmoplast tape if you have to-it has a buffered paper carrier and an acrylic adhesive and is pH neutral. Archival photo corners or strips are preferable to tapes.

How long will objects last in archival containers? This is a hard question to answer. Most archival materials are made to last 500 years. Handling and environmental conditions apply to the longevity of materials. PAT-The Photo Activity Test is performed on many materials to see if it is safe to use with photographs. This is one way to judge materials that can help when selecting enclosures. Why are these materials so expensive? Archival materials cost more to produce because there is a higher/purer grade of raw materials used to make them. Market forces also affect cost of archival materials. Some archival materials are now cheaper because they have entered the mainstream, such as copier paper (now acid free).

Many vendors have practical guides to help when purchasing archival materials (Gaylord, University products). When purchasing archival materials, compare prices for like items. Be flexible and combine products to get a creative result that meets your needs. Customer service departments at vendors can help answer preservation questions. In addition to Vendor Guides and Customer Service, one can always consult with Lyrasis.