Preservation and storage
One of the primary functions of the LHC is to preserve Walsall's records for future generations. The range of material held by the LHC includes documents (paper & parchment), books, maps, photographs, pamphlets, audio visual material, etc. Most of this material, by its very nature, will degrade with time, however this process is accelerated by poor environmental conditions, attack from insects and mould, and careless handling and inappropriate "repairs". The Conservation Section aims to prolong the life of the Archives and Local Studies Collections by ensuring they are correctly conserved, packed, stored and handled.
One of the most important aspects of preservation is to ensure that storage conditions are good. A cool, dry, well ventilated and dark environment prolongs the life of archive material and prevents mould growth and insect attack. The archives are kept in a special air-conditioned storage Repository, which is monitored using electronic data loggers, so that the temperature and humidity is maintained at the correct level.
Packaging of archive material forms a major part of the Conservation Unit's work. There is no point carrying out skilled and detailed conservation work if archives are not protected by the correct packaging materials or stored in a safe environment - they will simply degrade again.
Packaging must not cause any damage to the material it is protecting therefore only "conservation" grade paper, card & boxes are used to store LHC material. Ordinary stationery such as folders, brown envelopes and plastic sleeves are poor quality and actually contain acids which lead to the break down of paper items.
Public access - handling and photocopying
In the Research Room we have a handling and photocopying policy to ensure archive material being consulted is not damaged due to careless handling. This is why public consulting archives in the Research Room are provided with cotton gloves and book cushions to protect the material from physical wear and tear.
Conservation and repair
Badly damaged items which require detailed conservation work are treated in a number of ways; they may require washing to remove acidity and staining; chemical treatment to "buffer" against future build up of acid in the paper; infilling missing areas; using solvents to remove sticky tapes or staining; lining to support fragile documents & maps; repairing damaged bindings which often includes re-sewing the text block & restoring or replacing the binding. This type of work should only be carried out by a qualified conservator. Conservation methods and techniques are always being developed, but the basic principles of conservation remain the same: all treatment should be reversible and the original integrity of the item being conserved should not be altered.
Specialist paper repair techniques
A relatively new piece of equipment called a "Leafcaster" has enabled us to improve our paper repair technique. The Leafcaster is a machine which enables documents with missing areas to be infilled with liquid paper pulp. The machine consists of a casting tank with a holding tank below.
The document to be repaired is first washed and then placed on a filter mesh in the casting tank. Water is pumped into it from the holding tank, and the document is prevented from floating away by a perforated weight. Paper pulp is then mixed with the water in the casting tank. During the casting process, the water containing the pulp is draw through the holes in the document depositing the pulp in the missing areas while all the excess water is drained away. The document can then be carefully removed using a support material and dried.