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Heritage Hub Collections Care training

Online Collections Care training

How to preserve your community or family archive

Advice on how to protect and look after your physical archive


Collections Care 8: protective enclosures: which and how to choose


Want to know which protective enclosures to choose for your collection? Bewildered by the options and don’t know how to decide? In Collections Care 3 we introduced you to "The six layers of enclosure".

Let's take a closer look at the blue circle surrounding your object, known as the "primary" layer of protection. At Gloucestershire Archives we refer to this as the "protective enclosure" (although sometimes, quite inadequately we think, it’s just called "packaging").

A protective enclosure is the innermost layer of protection surrounding an item. When well made, of stable archival materials and designed to fit properly, it helps to protect against many of the Agents of Deterioration.

If you’ve had a look at supplier websites, you will know there are many possibilities! So, where do you start?

Well, it’s important to remember these key rules:

• Always use archival quality materials that are appropriate for the item you want to protect – think photo-safe materials for photographs.
• Polyester sleeves (or "pockets") should not be used for pastel, chalk or charcoal drawings or anything with a fragile or fragmentary surface as the slight static charge will lift off loose/powdery material.
• Polyester should be avoided where humidity and temperature levels are not well controlled. If in doubt stick to paper!
• Your working environment should be clean and dust free if you are using polyester. The electrostatic property of polyester can also attract dust and dirt, which can be gritty, and cause fine abrasion and contamination.
• Don’t use self-adhesive or so called “static” or “magic” albums: eventually the adhesive degrades and items become permanently stuck.
• Don’t use rubber bands – they degrade, and contain sulphur which can cause tarnishing in photographs.
• Don’t fold or modify a document to fit an enclosure (although keeping an existing fold is ok).
• Avoid paper clips and staples – they can rust and damage items if they become damp.

 Rusted staple and paperclip


• If you need to keep pages together, place in a separate paper folder, or you could use brass paperclips (100% brass not just coated!) and place a small fold of paper between the clip and original.

• Digital records (computer files) must be actively managed as they are very vulnerable to damage and loss, both in their physical storage medium and their digital structure.

There is no “one size fits all” answer to which protective enclosures to choose. How you protect your items will also depend on:

How much space you have available

• What type of storage furniture you have available (shelves/drawers/racking)

• How good the environmental conditions are in your storage area

• How much money you have to spend

• The perceived value of the collection or item

• The fragility or vulnerability of the item

• How the collection is going to be made available and used

• How often each item is likely to be handled

• Whether you have craft skills to make or adapt enclosures

• What tools and resources (such as helpers!) you have available

• Legal issues of ownership and your freedom to act/allocate resources/make collections available

• The need to safeguard personal information and comply with legal General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) requirements

In Collections Care 9, we show you some of the protective enclosures we have used at Gloucestershire Archives, explain why we have used the solutions we have, and give you some more specific suggestions.

Some criteria for achieving a basic level of care can be found in your "Caring for Collections Action checklist" (Collections Care 3). You may need to take baby steps over time, but any progress is good, and your precious collection will be better protected!

Finally, here is some advice on the care and conservation of documents and archives, from a recommended source; the Institute of Conservation (ICON) and a really helpful guide from the Image Permanence Institute (IPI) to "Photo storage, display, & labelling materials"

Page updated: 17/11/2020 Page updated by: Ally McConnell

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