The Preservation team at State Library Victoria is part of the Preservation and Conservation Division and is responsible for a wide range of programs and activities designed to ensure the ongoing care, preservation and access of our collections.
The majority of the work undertaken in the Preservation Studio takes the form of collection re-housing projects. Other programs and activities managed by Preservation include Quarantine and Integrated Pest Management (IPM), Processing, Environmental Monitoring, Disaster Preparedness and Response, the preparation of collection material for digitisation and the maintenance of the Materials Store.
A risk management approach underpins all of the programs and activities undertaken in Preservation, with a focus on the minimisation of damage and deterioration to the state collection.
The primary responsibility of Preservation is to care for the Library’s collections through its re-housing programs. This can range from the creation of custom enclosures for small individual objects to the re-housing, labelling and listing of large paper-based manuscript and photographic collections. Collection material re-housed in Preservation includes a wide range of formats such as ledgers, documents, maps, architectural plans, slides, prints, photographic negatives of all formats and objects, to name but a few.
Careful planning is essential as collections can expand significantly once they have been sorted and re-housed. For example, a collection of 30 brown paper wrapped packages received by the Library may become a collection of 400 archival folders within 50 manuscript boxes. As such, storage requirements and economies of space are always important considerations.
Collections are assessed on an individual basis, taking into account their condition, demand and potential use, cultural significance and format. Material is re-housed into standard archival packaging materials for long-term preservation and a list is created detailing the contents of each folder, box or album. This marks the beginning of the cataloguing process.
The preparation of items for re-housing commonly involves sorting, the removal of corroded metal fasteners (pins, staples, paper clips, etc.), disbinding and flattening in the case of large folded or rolled items.
While there is a certain charm to some of the original housing collections are received in, they are often manufactured from non-archival materials, such as acidic cardboard and plastics, which can cause significant, long-term damage to collections over time. Any information printed or handwritten on original housing is either transcribed onto archival folders or included as part of the electronic record for the item.
With any re-housing project, it is important to establish a balance between safe long-term storage and ongoing accessibility of collections. As such, the standard housing formats used by the Library not only protect collections from deterioration and damage, but also maximise efficiency of storage space and standardise appearance for ease of identification and access.
The collections that move through Preservation are many and varied, with an average of 50000 items re-housed in any given year!
Quarantine and integrated pest management
Established in 2009, the Quarantine program is the first port of call for collection material entering the Library, either as donations, bequests or purchases. Existing collection material may also at times require assessment and treatment in the Quarantine Room.
Collections received by the Library can be a single item such as a painting, or a large collection of hundreds of boxes containing an enormous variety of items. Collections may be in excellent condition or may have been stored in less than ideal conditions prior to arriving in Quarantine and, at times, can be in very poor condition. To ensure the ongoing safety of the collection, items received in Quarantine are checked for pests and mould and if required, undergo treatment prior to being released to collection staff for processing. The checking and treatment undertaken in Quarantine is essential for the ongoing care and access of new material accepted into the Library’s collection and reduces the risk of damage to the collection housed both on and off site.
In the case of mould-affected items, material is dried and brush vacuumed to remove mould spores, placed in an archival sleeve and labelled with the date of treatment.
Where evidence of current pest activity is observed, items are bagged and frozen for the required period to remove the risk of infestation. Items may require repeat treatment depending on the level of activity and the format of the material. Any dirty and dusty items are cleaned and rehoused, including the removal of any dead insect matter which can be an attractive food source for pests.
As part of our Integrated Pest Management (IPM) program, we have an external contractor inspecting the entire Library site (all seven acres!) on a monthly basis, reporting pest activity and carrying out any required pest control measures. The Quarantine and IPM programs are underpinned by a risk management approach looking at the collection as a whole and focusing on the control of common library and collection pests. We prioritise preventive strategies in order to minimise the need for interventive treatments such as fumigation.
In 2016, Quarantine received its 1000th collection, which is an average of 125 collections received and processed per year!
The Processing Section at State Library Victoria prepares collection items for their long-term use and storage in the library. New material is catalogued and sent to Processing for its final stop before it goes to the shelves. Items typically need a label (generated from the catalogue record), a stamp (indicating it is the property of the Library) and a security measure. These treatments are carried out on a large number of items at once to achieve economies of scale.
Some items require additional treatment to help them survive: dust jackets are given an archival plastic cover, flimsy items go into bags, boxes or folders, and sets of items can be stored together in boxes. The Library has a number of collection areas with differing standards for treating items: for example RARE items are given a label on a separate acid free strip.
The Processing Section also replaces damaged labels and packaging that have succumbed to wear and tear. Once items are ready for use they are handed on to the Access Teams for shelving. All this work requires careful sorting and handling to ensure items are kept intact and go to the right location and it is critical to ensure collection is suitably housed and protected before it enters open access and closed collection storage.
Stable environmental conditions play an important role in the long-term preservation of the Library’s varied collections. The Library has a range of storage areas and exhibition galleries with specific environmental conditions. Stable temperature and relative humidity is important in reducing the rate of chemical reaction, which can result in the rapid deterioration of collections. Stable, dry conditions are also essential for the prevention of fungal growth, the corrosion of metals and other forms of deterioration such as foxing and silvering out of photographic images.
The site of State Library Victoria is a complex one, comprising twenty-three interconnected buildings. Heating Ventilation and Air Conditioning (HVAC) systems are the principal means of maintaining stable environmental conditions within the storage and exhibition spaces across this complex site. While the maintenance and control of these systems is the responsibility of our Property Department, Preservation staff are responsible for monitoring and analysis of the environmental conditions within storage and exhibition areas at the Library.
Dataloggers are used to independently record temperature and relative humidity in storage and display areas and any fluctuations are investigated in collaboration with our Essential Services Coordinator.
Collection disaster preparedness and response
Preservation staff manage the Collection Disaster Preparedness and Response program, which is part of the Library’s broader disaster response plan. The purpose of the disaster response program is to protect the collection from damage as the result of a disaster, natural or man-made. Disasters may take many forms. The most obvious disasters that come to mind are fire, flood and earthquakes, though the most common risk is water damage caused by water leaks and floods,
The four facets of disaster preparedness are prevention, preparedness, response and recovery. In line with this approach, the foundation of the Collection Disaster Response program is preparedness for all potential disasters. This begins with a trained staff and a well-equipped, well-organised and well-managed Disaster Store, stocked with a range of supplies including fans, rags, mops, buckets, gumboots, bins, paper towels, etc. Yellow disaster bins are also placed within collection storage areas for ready access to rags and buckets in the case of an emergency.
Response and Recovery teams primarily consist of Preservation and Conservation staff, however a number of personnel from across the Library also receive training because disasters don’t always occur during business hours!
To ensure the response to any disaster is efficient and organised, procedures have been established which clearly explain responsibilities and expectations. In the event, especially after hours, of a disaster large or small, there is a clear line of reporting and delegation, ensuring the most appropriate staff members are called in. Staff on call will be contacted to assess and respond to a potential treat or actual disaster. Preservation staff in the Response team and Conservation Staff in the Recovery team may be called in to assist, along with Security and Property staff and Collection Managers.
Large amounts of archival housing materials are used each year with the work undertaken by Preservation and collection staff. Refined and reorganised over a number of years, the Materials Store is a fabulous and unique resource at the Library used to store a range of archival materials, such as papers, boards, sleeves, labels and a wide range of standard boxes and enclosures.
Preservation staff are responsible for the maintenance of the store and the provision of archival materials to staff across the Library. All materials used to house the Library’s varied collections are designed for safe and appropriate storage for the various collection formats, space efficiency and uniformity in appearance for management and ease of access. Up to date knowledge and research of available products and their composition, along with regular updating of stock lines and the introduction of new archival items ensures the ongoing improvement of the housing of the state collection.
State Library Victoria’s extensive digitisation program requires close, cross-divisional collaboration involving a number of staff at the Library. Preservation staff are responsible for assessing and preparing collection material as part of this program, determining whether items are safe to handle by our image capture team and performing stabilisation treatments as required. This commonly involves disbinding (in the case of bound newspapers), minor paper repairs and flattening. Items requiring intensive preparation prior to image capture are sent to Conservation for treatment. Preservation re-housing projects can often result in the selection of material for digitisation, as it is only once material is properly sorted, re-housed and labelled that hidden treasures may at times be revealed.
For further information about caring for your own collections, there are a range of guides on our website.
This post was written and researched by Leah Williams and Kate Holloway from the State Library’s Preservation team.