Records Preservation Measures

This article defines the word preservation and explain components that are critical in the implementation of the preservation plan.Components identified and explained in this article are;getting top management support,conducting a conservation assessment,establishing preservation standards,setting priorities and choosing the suitable preservation solution.A full text of this article is 1575 words and 7 pages long
Preservation is essential to records management in order to prevent information loss due to the deterioration of the records media. Roper [1999:37] says, "Preservation planning is essential to good records and archives management. It is better to focus on preventative preservation measures and ensure adequate environmental and physical controls than to focus on conservation treatments for one object to the exclusion of others in the institution. Preservation policies and plans need to be coordinated with other organizational requirements. " In this article the author is going to discuss the components that are critically important in the implementation of an effective preservation planning of an archive institution.

Preservation may be viewed as the totality of processes and operations involved in the protection of records and archives against damage or deterioration. Roper [1999:36] defines preservation as "...the passive protection of archival material in which no physical or chemical treatment to the item occurs."

Preservation planning is a process by which general and specific collections care needs are determined, priorities established and resources for implementation are identified. The main purpose is to outline a path or define a course of action that will allow you to set present and future preservation agendas. It identifies the actions an institution will take and those it will never take so that resources can be allocated appropriately. The steps that are more important in the implementation of a preservation program are; winning the support of the organizational top management, conducting a preservation survey, setting up goals and standards, assessment of preservation needs and the selection of documents, identifying priorities, choosing the appropriate preservation solution and setting up a disaster preparedness plan.

When setting up a preservation program, it is important to ensure that "stakeholders" are on board. Planning takes time and sometimes money. Try to sell the need for such planning to the organizational top management. The records manager or archivist should be able to sell the idea quiet convincingly, he/she should present the preservation plan as a good plan that will make business operations more efficient, effective and economical, plus its an ethical approach to the responsibility of managing a collection.

After getting management support the next step is to conduct a preservation survey. The preservation survey ensures that you have got a good grasp of the size and nature of the collection. In studying the nature of the collections, questions such as the following will be answered. What subjects are collected? Why are they collected? What are the components of the collection? What formats of material do they contain? Etcetera . Roper (1999:5) says:
"Such a survey is important because it is not possible to provide complete conservation treatments for all materials in an archival institution. Copying and repair of archival materials is expensive. One of the questions that must be considered is what should be preserved. The establishment of standards helps ensure the materials used to create records and archives are of the best quality possible.... It is important to recognize that decisions will have to be made about what to spend resources on and what will receive more passive care.

The preservation survey goes on to examine the records building and the storage conditions and materials. Bajpai 1999:206 argues that "The general condition of the building as a whole is the starting point. The concern is not so much to discover serious structural or material defects, but rather to assess the general suitability of the building for its purpose. The materials that are used-wood, brick or stone, for example will affect weather proofing and heat insulation. A flat roof can lead to difficulties with water seepage in heavy rain. Unfitting doors and windows can admit both water and animal life"

The survey should also look at issues of environmental conditions of the conditions of the storage areas. It is necessary to know the humidity and temperature of storage areas. The preservation survey will note by what systems the building is heated, cooled and ventilated, how the systems are actually used, and how effective they are. The overall cleanliness, maintenance, storage and exhibition furniture, pest monitoring, access and retrieval practices should also be put into account.

The next step after the preservation survey is the setting up of goals and standards. Very serious problems revolve around standards. One should not underestimate the problem of creating standards targets. Standards helps use choose the right storage media to use, the type of paper, type of microfilm or types electronic media to use to store records. There are national and international standards such as those published by the International Council on Archives (ICA) Budd 2000;57 states "the conformity of foreign and domestic standards when crating preservation masters will be of paramount importance since state vaults will require adherence to domestic specifications of the storage of (records)"

The next step in the preservation planning is the assessment of the preservation needs and the selection of documents. Roper 1999;51 writes that "Indeed some materials may not require any more complex treatment" That"s the conservation assessment may be carried out using a questionnaire and Roper [1999;51] continues to say, "completed questionnaires will assist for projecting funding requirements for replacement, repair and copying over the long term"

There are tools that enable us to assess both the condition of a records building and physical conditions of its serials. Periodic diagnostic check of the completeness of its serial files should be carried out. Lists of missing and damaged issues are then compiled to complete the sets. In connection with this activity, lists are prepared enumerating titles for potential binding or microfilming. Section of materials for preservation is done with the help of staff working with records such as records clerks, registry clerks and supervisors.

Once various materials have been assessed, it is possible to establish conservation priorities. These priorities will relate not only to the physical state of the materials but also to its relative importance to the archival institution, its age, legal values and other concerns. Roper (1999:40) says some of the questions that may need to be answered when establishing the priorities are as follows: what are the general conditions of the records and archives? Are the items badly damaged or deteriorating? Will the items be heavily used? Are there signs of mould, insects, rodents, or acidic damage? Etceteras.

From establish the preservation priorities we move on to choosing the appropriate preservation solution. The nature and the degree of damage on a record help a records manager or an archivist to apply the necessary preservative and conservative measures. Roper (1999:57) says "As the preservation evaluation questionnaires indicates, there are a wide variety of possible actions that can be fallen to preserve records and archives. Some actions require minimal effort and expense, such as replacement through purchase or photocopying. Other actions demand considerable resources, such as extensive treatment of originals or microfilming"

The last aspect in the preservation planning is an emergency planning. Emergency plans are policies and procedures developed by an organization to be used during an emergency or disaster to prevent or minimse damage to an organization, its people and its resources.

Miller 1999:5 says should be able to assess the risk factors of an organization "what hazards could endanger an institutions records and archives? How much damage could be done in the event of a disaster? All organizations should identify and assess possible risks to buildings, facilities and records"

Types of emergencies could be natural, environmental, political, incited or technology related such as a malfunctioning of hardware and/or software, viruses from damage or corrupted computer files electromagnetic interference, power failures and/or fluctuations, theft of computer hardware/

Millers (1999:21) say "Regardless of the long-term required or the level of emergency planning underway, it is possible to take steps to prevent a potential emergency from becoming a disaster. A number of changes can be instituted to protect records, ensuring their safety on a day to day basis as well as in the event of unforeseen circumstances. Each institution will have to determine the best course of action to take, depending on its resources, needs and potential risks. The common actions involve protecting records from damage caused by water, fire, hazards such as armed conflicts and abuse or mishandling"

Preservation is therefore a crucial element in the whole operation of a records program. As Roper puts it, "The aim of archival preservation is to prolong the usable life of useful research information in two ways". If the necessary steps in preservation planning are followed, the records of an organization will be adequately preserved and their life prolonged.


1 Miller L, Preservation Records, uk, IRMT 1999
2 Miller L, Emergency Planning For Records and Archives Services, Uk, IRMT 1999
3 Saur K,G. Managing and Preservation of Periodicals and Newspapers
4 Mahapatra P.K., Preservation in Libraries Perspectives Principles and Practice,New New Delhi, Ess Ess Publications 1999.
5 Bajpai S.K,Preservation and Management of Library Collections,New Delhi,Ess Ess Publication 1999.


1 Ritzeenthaler, Preserving Archives and Manuscripts, Chicago, Society of American Archivists,1993.
2Miller L,Preserving Records,UK,IRMT,1999.
3 Harvey,Preservation in Libraries,Austr,1993
4 Miller L, Emergency planning for records,UK,IRMT,1999.
5 Saur K,G,Managing the Preservation of Periodicals and Newspapers,Netherlands,IFLA,2000

Etiwel Mutero holds a Bsc Honours Degree in Records and Archives Management through the Zimbabwe Open University.You can contact Etiwel on His Mobile phone +263773614293 or email

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