The Exhibit Series: Fading Out

When choosing archival records to add to a display case or exhibit space a decision must be made whether to display the original or a copy. Sometimes it is necessary to display the original because the item holds such high historic significance and making it publicly accessible is important, for example, exhibiting the Canadian Constitution. If you are considering displaying an item that could fade first determine if displaying the original is necessary or if a copy of the item would suffice.

What media and material fades or discolours more quickly when exposed to light?

  • Iron gall ink
  • Analine dye
  • Water-based inks
  • Watercolours
  • Coloured photographs
  • Cyanotypes and blueprints
  • Newsprint
  • Wood pulp based paper

This is not a comprehensive list, and there may be other media and materials that will fade quickly upon light exposure.


Photo Credit: Parker Knight

It is also important to consider the auxiliary features of the records, such as fabric ties, paper seals, and stamps; all may fade when exposed to light.


How can you minimize exposure to light if the original must be displayed and has light sensitive media or materials?

Ensure there is UV filtering film on windows and UV filtering light tubes on lights that emit UV. Ensure that the light does not exceed 75 lux. It is recommended to place curtains over windows to assist with controlling lux. Other items should not be placed in front of or partially over light susceptible items due to uneven fading caused by the shade, leaving unsightly fade marks.

It is recommended to change out exhibit material every three months so that original records are not overexposed to light.

While it is recommended to display high resolution coloured copies when possible of archival records susceptible to fading, if the item holds little to no historic significance there may not be a risk of losing important information even if the item does fade. The archives staff preparing the display should consider all options and determine if the return is greater than the risk.

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The Exhibit Series: Lighting

Lighting can have a significant impact on exhibits. It can influence the environment of the exhibit space, highlight items of importance, accent areas of the space, lead viewers from one room to another, and, most importantly, it can have a significant impact on the life of an item.

How does light negatively impact archival materials? 

The three largest contributors of degradation to archival materials are: light, heat, and oxygen. All three of these contributors play a part in causing displayed items to degrade.

Light and oxygen partner to cause photo-degradation. Photo-degradation is initiated by a photon being emitted from a light source, and being absorbed by molecules. The photon provides energy that is transferred as electrons. The electrons cause molecules to jump from a ground state (stable) to an excited state (unstable). The excited state of the molecules can cause them to spontaneously oxidize or hydrolyze. This process can be observed when photo-degradation causes archival items to yellow and become brittle, or when it causes organic dyes to fade. If lamps are set-up too closely to archival items, heat from the them can act as a catalyst for photo-degradation, causing it to occur more rapidly.

The temperature and relative humidity of collection storage spaces are often closely monitored. The lighting of exhibit areas should be monitored equally as closely to preserve the archival items on display. How can this be done? Information on light can be collected using a UV metre, an ELSEC Handheld Environmental Monitor, or a Blue Wool standard card to examine the lux and UV levels. Lux is the unit of illumination, used to measure the intensity of light in one square metre. UV or ultraviolet light is a particular wavelength that causes rapid fading of organic materials.


Photo Credit: Susanne Nilsson, Cropped

It is not recommended to use natural sunlight to illuminate an exhibit space because of the extensive damage it causes to archival items. Sunlight is too intense, emits too much heat, and has high UV levels. There should not be any windows in an exhibit space, though if there are, it is recommended to place UV filtering film on the windows and to cover the windows with blackout curtains. UV filtering film should be replaced every ten years. UV filtering light tube covers can also be purchased for fluorescent light tubes, which also emit low levels of UV.

It is recommended to display items for no more than three to four months. Archival items without coloured media can be illuminated up to 150 lux, though archival items with colour, as well as art on paper, should be illuminated up to no more than 75 lux.

Our next blog in the Exhibit Series will discuss archival materials that are particularly vulnerable to deterioration when on exhibit.

For more information on light and light damage, please visit the Northeast Document Conservation Centre.

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Tracking Acidity in Your Collection

A-D Strips are used to identify the presence of vinegar syndrome in a collection containing cellulose acetate, predominantly in reel format, though they can be used to identify negatives with vinegar syndrome.

What are they? They are made of dye-coated paper that changes colour when exposed to low pH. A-D Strips detect the presence of acetic acid, the culprit behind vinegar syndrome. Acetic acid vapour is released from degrading cellulose acetate. As the released vapour comes into contact with the A-D Strips, the strips change colour. The colour change is dependent on the concentration of acetic acid detected. Unaffected strips begin as the colour blue, and slowly migrate to blue-green, green, green-yellow, and finally to bright yellow upon exposure.

How should they be used? A-D strips can be placed in film or audio canisters, boxes, or bags. For negatives housed in boxes, it can be easier to monitor acetic acid vapours by suspending the A-D Strips along the top of the box, rather than the placing them at the bottom.
You will need: linen tape, two-sided tape, cotton string, and A-D Strips

  1. Use linen tape to adhere cotton string across an open box containing cellulose acetate negatives.
  2. Use two-sided tape to adhere A-D Strips to the string, dye-coated side facing down towards the negatives.
  3. Put the lid back on the box, and return in one week to monitor the colour change of the A-D Strips.
A-D Strips - Negatives

Image Credit: Emily Turgeon-Brunet


Please visit the Image Permanence Institute’s webpage on A-D Strips for more information:

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Cover All the Bases: Collections Insurance

It is quite common to organize insurance coverage for facilities, facility contents, staff healthy and safety, and vehicles, but unfortunately, it is less often purchased for collections of archival records. Archival collections may include items of high historical and monetary value and it is important to organize insurance coverage for these items in the event of an emergency or disaster.

Collections insurance is often not purchased for the following reasons:

  1. Too difficult to find an insurance company that will insure an archival collection
  2. Too difficult to determine the monetary value of original items
  3. Unable to secure funds to have a National Archival Appraisal Board (NAAB) certified professional appraise the collection
  4. Unsure how collections insurance can be used

Why is it important?

  1. 9150440989_b84a3d57d7_o.jpg

    Photo Credit: shakespearesmonkey

    It is recommended to insure items going on loan to other institutions in the event of the items being damaged or lost during transport, set-up or exhibition.

  2. It is also useful to have insurance for items that are frequently requested by researchers, handled by volunteers, or worked with by contractors.
  3. While insurance cannot replace original records, insurance can cover the costs of conservation treatment, rehousing, and digitization so that the records are once again accessible to staff and researchers.*

It is recommended to find an insurance broker that has worked with art, culture, and heritage institutions in the past as they may offer coverage for collections. If changing insurance brokers is not a feasible option, one may also inquire to their current insurance broker about ‘Valuable Papers Insurance’ to see if it is a good fit for their vital records or collection. This type of insurance coverage will reimburse the policyholder for the monetary value of papers if they are lost. These papers commonly include wills, trusts, or corporate charters. In order to be eligible to file a claim under this coverage, it must be proven that the papers were securely, and correctly housed (Valuable Papers Insurance, Investopedia).

*It is important to seek professional assistance to complete conservation treatment and digitization because mishandling the records may cause harm. Also, if the collection is insured the insurance company may require confirmation that the contractor hired to complete the work is a trained professional.

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South Peace Regional Archives Update

In March 2015, our archivist Leslie Gordon gave me a new project – adding new fonds descriptions to Alberta on Record. It had been several years since South Peace Regional Archives had been able to add new descriptions, so the representation of our holdings was far from being up to date.

As I began adding the new descriptions, I saw that much of the information that had already been entered was outdated. There were hundreds of digital files that had been uploaded in the wrong format and needed to be replaced. And because AOR had undergone significant changes in the past few years, the way the previous descriptions had been entered was not consistent with the way I was being instructed to enter the new information. After a few weeks, I asked our director, Mary Nutting, if it would be worthwhile to go through each of our descriptions, which numbered well into the thousands, and update them all to meet the current standards.

The project has taken nearly one and a half years, and there were times when it seemed as though I would never come to the end of the revisions. But apart from adding a few new PDF files, the work is now essentially complete! Since I had only been working at SPRA for a couple of months when I began working on our Alberta on Record descriptions, it was an excellent (and very thorough!) way to familiarize myself with our holdings, as well archival methods and terminology. Now that I’ve finished, it gives me a great sense of accomplishment to have worked with ASA in making this information available to the public.

Teresa Dyck
Administrative Assistant
South Peace Regional Archives

Common Ground: Disaster Psychology and Vicarious Resilience


Photo credit: Adrian Pantea

Facility restoration and collections conservation are two of the most commonly sought after disaster relief services for archives. Disaster relief services regarding staff’s health is equally as important as the state of the facility and collection. The emotional toll of disaster recovery and remediation can be a physical, as well as a mental burden on staff members. Psychologists are often called on scene during emergencies and disasters to provide emotional support to victims, survivors, volunteers and disaster relief operations workers. Psychological trauma, also known as vicarious trauma, secondary traumatic stress, and compassion fatigue is not an uncommon experience for persons after a major event.

It is recommended to hold staff training meetings to practice disaster response scenarios. While it is important to practice staff and collection evacuation techniques, it is also important to foster staff coping strategies, called ‘vicarious resilience’. Staff can be familiarized with coping strategies by referring to disaster psychology books, such as, Vicarious Trauma and Disaster Mental Health: Understanding Risks and Promoting Resilience by authors Gertie Quitangon and Mark Evces. Practicing the coping strategies will help staff mentally prepare for traumatic events as well as cope with the emotional trauma caused by these events after they have occurred.

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Disaster Preparedness Workshop


The ASA’s Education Committee, in partnership with the Flood Advisory Programme is pleased to announce the Fall Workshop:

Disaster Preparedness: Business Continuity and Disaster Psychology

This two-day workshop taking place on September 21 & 22 2016 at Hyatt Regency in Downtown Calgary. It will include sessions on Disaster Psychology by Dr. Charmaine Thomas, a hands-on workshop on Handling Wet Records presented by Emily Turgeon-Brunet, and a full day session on Business Continuity by Barry Manuel from Kildoon Emergency Management Consulting and Training.

This workshop will be for all ASA members in good standing. To allow all institutional members an equal opportunity to attend, a two-week pre-register session will happen from June 27 through July 8 which will allow each institution the opportunity to pre-register ONE individual from their institution to attend. As of July 11, registration will be opened up to all members of the ASA, and at that point multiple members from each institution may be registered. For members travelling, ASA has a significant travel grant available and will also be providing access to a hotel room block at the Hyatt for the nights of the 20th and 21st. The ASA is requesting a $100 deposit to hold your spot for the workshop, refundable upon completion.[1]

Pay attention to for further information on workshop schedule and instructors.

[1] Cheque is preferred for the deposit. If credit card payment is required a $5 processing fee will be taken off of the deposit upon refund.

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The Start Line: Business Continuity Planning

What is a business continuity plan?

A business continuity plan is a collection of guidelines meant to inform staff on how to proceed with offering services or reinstate primary functions of a business or organization after it has been affected or disrupted by an emergency or a disaster. Most often business continuity plans are considered when the facility is directly affected by an emergency or disaster. Business continuity plans are especially important for larger organizations when a large body of staff need to be managed. The plan will inform where and how staff can work to continue offering the primary services of the organization.


Before developing a business continuity plan, it is important to consider the following:

  • Is there another facility unaffected by the emergency/disaster where staff can work?
  • Is it a conducive working environment? (i.e heating, electricity, plumbing, security)
  • Are there computers, desks, chairs and required equipment at the offsite facility?
  • Will the staff have access to internet, the work server, work email accounts, and required databases?
  • Is it safe for staff to continue to work?

Where to start:

  • Refer to the textbook Business Continuity and Risk Management: Essentials of Organizational Resilience by Kurt Engemann and Doug Henderson
  • Contact a local business continuity professional for advice
  • Enroll in certification courses in business continuity are offered nationally by Disaster Recovery Institute Canada

If your archives is municipally governed it is important to seek out if a business continuity plan is already in place and what that means for you, your staff and your site.

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Legal Archives Society of Alberta: Film Premiere


Film premiere date:
Thursday, June 16th 4:30 pm
Location: Monarch Theatre, Medicine Hat, AB.
Free admission

The Legal Archives Society of Alberta (LASA) is proud to announce the production of its first dramatic short film (22 minutes) called “The Agreement” written and produced by film and television actor Julian Black Antelope: Blackstone, Penny Dreadful, Arctic Air; and directed by award winning director Michael Peterson: The Wilmore Boys, Tiny Plastic Men, Lloyd The Conqueror.

The Agreement is based on archival records relating to Lt. George T. Davidson, a Medicine Hat lawyer who freely gave up a life of privilege and wealth to serve in the trenches during WWI. The story takes an existential look at the feelings and moments of this selfless and courageous figure as he reflects on the events leading up to his enlistment.


SYNOPSIS: In the early morning hours of October 26th 1916 at the Somme battlefront, Lt. George T. Davidson and a non-commissioned officer were sent out to “No Man’s Land” to reconnoiter enemy barb wire entanglements in anticipation of an attack. Displaying courage under fire, Lt. George T. Davidson makes the ultimate self-sacrifice. Based on true-life events, archival meeting minutes of the Medicine Hat Bar Association, are re-enacted as lawyers gathered for a farewell banquet on August 26, 1914 to send-off Davidson embarking overseas. Tragically, his prophetic words come to pass ‘Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori’.* LASA hopes to promote further interest in archival holdings as an inspiration for storytelling, and to bring light to Alberta’s unique WWI story. The short film was shot on location in Calgary and at the historic Lougheed House – a place of WWI significance, owing to patriarch lawyer, Sir James Lougheed who as a Senator and Minister in Prime Minister Borden’s government oversaw the establishment of Veterans Affairs Canada.

Submitted by: Brenda McCafferty
Reviewed by the Lead Team

For more information please click here.

*Latin translation: “It is sweet and honorable to die for the fatherland.”

Risk-Based Business


Credit: m. Photo has been cropped.

What is a risk assessment?

A risk assessment is an assessment performed of a facility, site, or collection to identify potential risks; the likelihood of occurrence; the damage if the risk occurs; and the cost, effort, and work to remediate those damages.

Why is it beneficial for archives to perform a risk assessment?

It is important for an institution to know their weaknesses in order to address them. It is also useful to know what the weaknesses are to determine what insurance coverage should be purchased. For example, it may be useful to purchase flood insurance if the collection is stored on a lower level.

If the institution has additional funding available to create a new job position, performing a risk assessment may assist with the decision of what position should be created. For example, if theft and vandalism are frequent occurrences it may be useful to have a security staff member on site.

If an institution is in the process of applying for grants, performing a risk assessment may assist with creating the grant application and knowing where grant assistance would be most beneficial. If awarded the grant, should the funding go towards remediating one large risk or a few smaller risks? This is called risk-based decision making; answering questions about potential risks and the outcome if risks are not addressed.

How is a risk assessment performed?

The Canadian Conservation Institute offers a service for which institutions can apply where a CCI conservation professional visits the institution to perform a facility assessment.

It is also encouraged for institution staff to set aside time once or twice a year to discuss what risks are present due to the type of collection material and media housed, the facility structure, security and access, electric work, plumbing, among others. It is important for facilities maintenance staff, cleaning staff, archivists, conservators, and collection technicians to work together as they may recognize different potential risks.

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