Tag Archives: Preservation

Audiovisual Preservation Survey and Assessment Report

Wire recording

Wire recording (Photo courtesy of Deborah Tabah)

The ASA is pleased to announce the completion of the Audiovisual Survey and Assessment project by Deborah Tabah, generously funded through a grant by Library and Archives Canada. A survey was carried out across forty-four ASA Institutional Member archives.

View the Audiovisual Preservation Survey and Assessment Report here!



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How to Write a (Basic) Condition Report

Most often conservators, preservation specialists, collection managers, and art couriers are the staff members who write condition reports for collection materials. The practice of writing a condition report is valuable because it collects information on the state of an item at a certain time, which provides a reference for future degradation or damage. Some condition reports are more extensive than others, though it is useful to have a basic condition report on file for items that are frequently circulated.

Many staff members in the heritage field write short reports on the appearance and condition of objects to record in the database. This may be done upon acquisition, prior to exhibition or loan, or when preparing an item for the vault.

What information is needed on the item to write a basic condition report (for a paper item)?





Date of Execution

Dimensions (cm)

Media (ink, graphite, etc)



Formation (smooth or rough)



Surface (matte or glossy)






Handling Dents/Creases







Overall Staining

Local Staining




It is also recommended to take photographs of the items at the time that they are assessed, as additional proof of their condition. Photographs should be taken with a DSLR camera and under good lighting. Use a colour target placed next to the item to provide a colour reference that ensures the colouration and brightness of the photograph is acceptable. This colour target can be used to colour correct the digital file using a Photoshop program if needed.

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Setting Up a Paper Conservation Lab

It can be quite difficult to furnish a conservation lab that is being put into an unmodified facility. Most often conservation labs are an after thought during the construction of a heritage facility, or they are put into an existing space well after the facility has been constructed. This blog will discuss the basic requirements, including substantial equipment and furniture, to set up a small lab space in an unmodified room intended for the conservation of paper objects. This blog will not discuss materials, small equipment, tools, or solvents and chemical compounds required for conservation treatments.

Choosing a space:

When choosing a space within a facility ensure you choose somewhere that is above ground, has natural lighting available, ideally north facing windows, and has hard flooring. This is because it is safer for records and objects to be housed above ground in the event of a flood, good lighting is required to perform conservation treatments, and carpeting is not recommended in a lab space where chemicals are used. In the event of a chemical spill carpeting cannot be sufficiently or safely cleaned. It is also important that there is piping available for sinks, and numerous outlets for the equipment. The lab should be located in a secure space within the facility with locked doors.

The Office

An office space will be required for the appointed conservation staff member to write reports and work on other research. The office space should include a desk, a chair, a computer, a printer and scanner, a filing cabinet, and a bookshelf.


Photo credit: Paper Conservation Lab, Cliff


The Photo Studio

Photo documentation will be performed on all items undergoing treatment or preservation. A space will be required to perform photography. It is recommended that this space be near the office space as both should be off limits to the solvents and other materials used in the lab. The space should have the ability to be sealed off from all light to allow suitable photos to be taken. Hanging blackout curtains around the perimetre of the photo studio will help block out light.

Note: Supplies that are necessary are labeled ‘N’; supplies that are recommended are labeled ‘R’.

Photo Studio Shopping List:

Blackout Curtains (N) 2 UV Lamps (R)
Digital SLR Camera (N) 2 Tungsten Lamps (R)
Standard Lens (N) Light Table (R)
Macro Lens (R) AIC PhD Targets (N)
Tripod (N) Large Black and Grey Mat Boards (N)
Horizontal Camera Mount (N) Light Table (R)

The Lab

The Lab will require sufficient space so that the conservation staff member may work on more than one project at a time. There should be a minimum of three large lab workbenches. There should be a chemical storage cabinet that has a locking mechanism to house the solvents and chemical compounds required for treatment. In addition to this cabinet, there must be a fridge, as some chemicals require cold storage. The lab environment must be controlled and monitored through the use of an HVAC system or equivalent, and a HOBO data logger or ELSEC monitor. UV filters should be placed on all overhead light tubes and windows to reduce light damage caused by items undergoing treatment. Adjustable desk lamps with magnification capabilities should be attached to one of the lab workbenches to assist with detailed work. If within the budget, it is strongly recommended to also have a stereomicroscope at a workbench, which will assist with research and analysis of objects.

Work with the maintenance or facility department to have a fume hood installed. For safety reasons, and to minimize negative affects on undergoing projects in the fume hood, the fume hood should not be located near the door(s) or the window(s). If having a fume hood installed is not possible, portable fume hoods can be purchased. Ensure that a customizable portable fume hood is chosen. The portable fume hood should contain the required filters for both chemicals and biohazards that may be present in an object or treatment process.

Distilled and deionized water are both required for conservation treatments. Work with your maintenance or facility department to have portable filtration systems installed. Large sinks (at least 4 ft wide) with drainage at one end must be installed below the filtration systems. A drying rack should be located near the sink; this area will be used to complete aqueous treatment procedures.

A suction table with a dome attachment should be set-up by the maintenance or facilities staff, and installed next to a lab workbench. Suction tables are used for certain treatment procedures as well as for humidifying items.

The Lab Shopping List:

3 Lab Workbenches (N) UV Filters (N)
Chemical Storage Cabinet (N) Fume Hood (N)
Fridge (N) Portable DI Water Filter System (R)
HVAC System (R) Distillation Tank (N)
HOBO Data Logger/ELSEC Monitor (N) 4 ft or Larger Sink(s) (N)
Desk Lamp with Magnification Capabilities (N) Suction Table with Dome (R)
Stereomicroscope (R) Drying Rack (N)

It is recommended to work with the conservation staff member and request their assistance for choosing equipment and furniture. This brief guide is meant to provide basic information on required furniture and large equipment for a small paper conservation lab.

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Identifying the Digital Print

On October 25th the Lead Conservator took part in the three-day Digital Print Preservation workshop offered by the Image Permanence Institute in Rochester, NY. This workshop was aimed to teach and inform a group of professionals in the heritage field about identifying digitally printed materials. Once digital prints can be identified it is possible to determine how they should be handled, stored, and exhibited. Also, as some digital prints are more susceptible to water damage than others, it is important to identify the printing processes in the collection to prioritize those for evacuation and treatment.


Digital Print Preservation Workshop, Photo Credit: Marta Garcia Celma, NACCA

The Big Three

  • Dye Sublimation Print
  • Electrophotographic Print
  • Inkjet Print

Dye Sublimation Prints rely on the digital print process most commonly used to produce instant photos at Wal-Mart and Shoppers Drug Mart. How can they be identified?


Close up of Dye Sublimation Print, Photo Credit: DP3 Project

  1. Sometimes one or two edges are serrated from where the tear-off tabs were removed.
  2. Photos of this process are most often 4” x 6”.
  3. If looked at under a microscope or loupe it should not be possible to focus on a particular dot of ink.
  4. This method is still used to transfer dyes to textiles.

Electrophotographic Prints are created by laser printers and photocopiers and produced with toners not inks. Either dry toner or pigment suspended in liquid may be used. How can they be identified?


Close up of an EP Print, Liquid Toner, Photo Credit: DP3 Project

  1. If looked at under a microscope or loupe, amplitude modulation (AM) screening can be seen. This is when the centre of each dot of toner is equidistant from one another, but the size of each dot changes in order to create tonality within the image.
  2. If liquid toner is used, the edge of the image will not have a clean line. This is because liquid toner cannot produce half dots. If dry toner is used, half dots can be created and the edge of the image will be clean lined.
  3. Liquid toner produces a more distinct dot than dry toner.
  4. EP prints often have “satellites” which are random tiny specks of toner that can be found throughout the print.

Close up of an EP Print, Dry Toner, Photo Credit: DP3 Project

InkJet Prints are the most commonly produced prints , which can be found on every type of paper including office paper, fine art papers, photo paper, and even canvas. How can they be identified?

  1. Inkjet prints can be either AM screening or frequency modulated (FM) screening, but are most often FM screen printed. FM screening is when ink dots are applied more densely in areas to create tonality within the image. The dots appear to be randomly placed.
  2. The ink used to produce these prints can be either dye or pigment based.
  3. Dye based inks are more easily absorbed into the paper whereas pigment based inks sit closer to the surface of the paper which can make them appear more vibrant.
  4. Aqueous dye inkjet prints are extremely water soluble and fade quickly, though sometimes a topcoat has been applied over the image to help slow down the rate of discolouration.
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Close up of an InkJet Print, Photo Credit: DP3 Project

Please visit the wonderfully educational Digital Print Preservation Portal to learn about handling and caring for digital prints.

The Lead Conservator extends her thanks to the staff at the Image Permanence Institute for offering such an informative and fascinating workshop, and to the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation for making the workshop possible.

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The Exhibit Series: Boxing it Up

When developing a new exhibit space, or updating an existing exhibit space, it can be tough to find the right selection of exhibit cases and mounts. Archives staff may be looking to enhance an exhibit space with new cases that both better suit the collection and that are chemically and physically stable long-term. Sometimes it is not possible to order new cases, as it can often be less expensive to update existing cases rather than replace. Whether buying new or making changes, what are you options when displaying original archival material?

  1. Where can you buy archival grade exhibit cases?

Zone Display Cases is a Canadian company that designs and manufactures custom-made conservation grade display cases. They are made of powder-coated steel and glass and are closely inspected prior to shipping. They offer a promise that all display cases shipped are without defect. Some of their most recent projects have included creating cases for Parliament of Canada, Harvard University, The Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre, and Yale University.

Goppion: The Art of Case Design began as a glass making company in Milan. Over the years they began creating custom display cases to meet clients’ special needs. Their work can be seen in museums across Europe.

Glausbau Hahn is a German company that produces their glass and coated metal cases within country using resource efficient methods and materials. Their cases can be viewed throughout Europe, and, closer to home, can be seen at the Royal Ontario Museum.


Photo Credit: Modular Cases, Products, Zone Display Cases. Accessed September 2016.

  1. How can non-archival grade exhibit cases be updated?

Often unmodified exhibit cases are adopted for use because they are what is available and on-hand. These exhibit cases are sometimes painted or lacquered wood, particle board, or even mixed materials, including cork. These materials are generally not archival grade unless steps are taken to stabilize them. They will off-gas and negatively affect the items housed inside by causing embrittlement and yellowing to the paper. Completely replacing the case may not be within the budget, so what can be done?

  • If the case is lacquered wood it is recommended to place acid-free barriers like mat board or panes of glass along the shelves or platform. This is to ensure the collection items are not in direct contact with the wood.
  • If the case is coated metal and areas of the coating has worn off, it is recommended to apply a fresh coating of enamel paint to reduce the possibility of corrosion in areas with exposed metal. Allow paint to cure for two weeks before use.
  • If the case is made of particleboard, plywood or MDF it is recommended to coat it with enamel paint, and set aside to cure for two weeks before use. It is recommended to coat these types of wood products because they off gas due to adhesives within the material.
  • Cork is often used as a base material on shelves and platforms, frequently found in cases produced for schools and libraries. Cork is not archival grade and is not chemically stable. It is recommended to cover the cork board with buffered mat board, with an additional sheet of unbuffered acid-free mat board overtop. The underside of the buffered mat board should be routinely checked for discolouration. Once it begins to discolour, replace with another sheet of buffered mat board. It is recommended to put unbuffered mat board overtop of the buffered one because some archival materials react poorly to change in pH. Unbuffered mat board is inert and so is preferable if placing archival materials directly on it.

Microclimate equipment can also be installed in new or repurposed exhibit cases. Canadian company, Keepsafe Microclimate Systems, offers a variety of temperature, humidity, and oxygen moderating equipment that can be installed in cases to better protect collection material from the environment and pests.

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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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Animal Skins and Coated Paper: A World of Difference

The Original Writing Materials

Parchment is animal skin (such as sheep, goat, cow, hare, horse, or deer) specially prepared to be used as a writing material.


Parchment made from sheep skin. Photo credit: Gavin Moorhead

Vellum is made specifically from the skin of a calf specially prepared to be used as a writing material or to create book covers. Using skins as a writing surface began as early as 400 BCE, though demand decreased in the 15th century when the production of paper gained popularity.


Vellum. Photo credit: Gavin Moorhead

Both parchment and vellum are made by soaking the skins in lime and water for a week and a half while stirring the vat a few times a day. The skins are removed from the vat and placed fur side up on a convex surface, and the fur is then scraped off. The skins are then stretched on a wooden frame, and while wet, are scraped with a knife a second time. Once dry, the skins may be made smooth by scraping with a pumice stone and dusted with chalk powder. Finally they are cut out of their frames and are trimmed and shaped.

How can we tell the difference between vellum and parchment?

Vellum typically has a finer grain, fewer flaws, and fewer colour variations. As parchment is usually created from the skins of full-grown animals, the grain is more pronounced due to larger hair follicles and there may also be evidence of old scars and discolouration.

Coated Paper

There are many types of coated paper, which include clay coatings and polymer coatings. Polymer coatings are used to achieve physical characteristics, water resistance, and to prevent ink from feathering.

Some polymer coatings may have a sheen, or cause the paper to be stiff and inflexible, producing similar qualities to parchment and vellum. This can make identification difficult.

How can we tell the difference between animal skin and coated paper?

Is there a grain or are hair follicles visible? If so, it is vellum or parchment.

Is there a variation in colour? If there is, it is supporting evidence that it is animal skin, though a variation in colour alone is not strong enough evidence to determine that it is not coated paper.

Can it be flexed easily? Vellum and parchment are stiffer than coated paper.

Is there a variation in opacity? A variation in opacity, but not in thickness, is evidence that it may be animal skin.

Are there creases or tears? If so, place a magnification loupe along one edge and look for paper fibres. Animal skin will not have visible fibres.

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Sticky Situation: Introduction to Adhesives and Glue

What is glue?

Glue is a sticky all-natural product created by boiling parts of animals to make a brown, translucent, and viscous substance. Protein colloids is extracted from the skin and bones of animals through a boiling process that causes hydrolysis to the collagen. Rabbit-skin glue and Russian Sturgeon glue (Isinglass) is still used today by paintings conservators and gilders.

Mucilage, created by plants, can also be boiled to create a sticky product. Mucilage is used by plants to assist with the storage of water and food, seed germination and to thicken cell membranes.


Photo credit: Boston Public Library

How do you know if glue is on your record?

The presence of glue exhibits physical traits such as penetrating through paper. It is inflexible, hard, and shiny, with a brown tint. Typically it is found on items from the 1800s – 1950s, though it is still available today for purchase at art and hardware stores. Glue is often found on envelopes, framed items, and scrapbooks from 1950 and earlier.

What is adhesive?

Adhesive is a synthetic product. There are many different types, some of which include thermoset adhesives, thermoplastic adhesives, and pressure-sensitive adhesives, though there are many others. Not all adhesives are made equal. Some are chemically and physically stable, while others degrade quickly. When adhesives degrade they first become sticky and gooey, then they begin to lose their adhesive properties and harden, finally they harden completely and the paper will often detach.


Photo credit: Plaisanter

How do you know if adhesive is on your record?

If the record has pressure sensitive tape, is framed or matted, and is from 1960 or later, it is likely that there is adhesive present. Adhesive is hard and shiny, can cause yellow or brown staining, and may cause the paper to appear translucent. Many adhesives cause paper fibres to weaken leading to tearing and loss of media. It is recommended to have a paper conservator treat the item to remove as much adhesive as possible, and to improve the stability and aesthetic of the record.
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Salvage at a Glance

Since September 2014, the Flood Advisory Programme’s Lead Team has been working with our institutional members on salvage and recovery from the June 2013 floods. We had the opportunity to treat records from the Museum of the Highwood, which was devastated by the flood. The Lead Team transported the frozen photographic material to the Provincial Archives of Alberta’s conservation lab to treat the records and to begin reconciling the records with their descriptions. Here are a few photographs of this process:

Emily Turgeon-Brunet handling muddy matted photographs. Photo Credit: Yesan Ham.

Emily Turgeon-Brunet handling muddy matted photographs. Photo Credit: Yesan Ham.

Glass plate negatives on a drying rack after multiple baths in a mixture of ethanol and water. Photo Credit: Amanda Oliver.

Glass plate negatives on a drying rack after multiple baths in a mixture of ethanol and water. Photo Credit: Amanda Oliver.

Broken glass plate negative on a light table. Photo Credit: Yesan Ham.

Broken glass plate negative on a light table. Photo Credit: Yesan Ham.

Before treatment: six mud-covered ambrotypes in wooden box. Photo Credit: Yesan Ham.

Before treatment: six mud-covered ambrotypes in wooden box. Photo Credit: Yesan Ham.

After treatment: six ambrotypes properly rehoused. Photo Credit: Yesan Ham.

After treatment: six ambrotypes properly rehoused. Photo Credit: Yesan Ham.

Drying photographs after they have been treated. Photo Credit: Amanda Oliver.

Drying photographs after they have been treated. Photo Credit: Amanda Oliver.

We are continuing to work with Museum of the Highwood to salvage their archival records and make their collection accessible again. We would like to thank the Museum of the Highwood for allowing us to share these photographs, Yesan Ham for taking the photographs and the Provincial Archives of Alberta for providing us with the lab space to treat the records.

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