custom housing for WWI badges from White family archive

Custom housing boxes made by the Library’s Preservation team for WWI badges from the White family archive

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.

Preservation projects

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.

custom housing for cigarette packets and tins

Custom housing for cigarette packets from the Douglas Moule collection of cigarette trading cards

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.

brown paper packages for re-housiing

Brown paper packages in the Preservation Studio for re-housing

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.

Rolled drawings requiring flattening

Rolled landscape designs from the Grace Fraser collection in the Preservation Studio for flattening and re-housing

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.

original brown binders

Pretty original binders

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.

Allbox albums

Archival albums used for the safe long-term storage of photographic prints, negatives and transparencies

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.


quarantine room

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.

glass plate negatives in original housing

Original housing for a collection of glass plate negatives received in the Quarantine Room awaiting cleaning

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.

mouldy papers in quarantine

Documents affected by mould in the Quarantine Room for 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.

spider web in quarantine

Documents with spider webs in the Quarantine Room for treatment

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.

bug identification

Bugs identification

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.

processing housing formats

Removable enclosures used by Processing to protect Library items

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.

Environmental monitoring

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.

datalogger used for environmental monitoring

Datalogger used for recording data for temperature and relative humidity

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,

yellow disaster bin

Disaster bin

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.

gumboots in disaster store

Gumboots in the Disaster Store

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.

Documents hung out to dry

Drying out wet documents in the Disaster Store

Materials store

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.

archival materials store

Materials Store

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.

archival materials used for re-housing collections

Archival sleeves and boxes in the Materials Store

Digitisation projects

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.

Image of hands holding open a newspaper

Preparing a newspaper for digitisation in the Preservation Studio

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. 


This article has 13 comments

  1. Leah many thanks for this fantastic post. People are interested in the conservation process. I’d like to see something regular about it on the SLV website. Perhaps there is already and I am just not familiar with it. In the NGV members’ magazine each edition there’s a page devoted to some conversation project. It’s eye-opening and helps us to appreciate the work of repositories.

    • Thanks Madonna. Glad you enjoyed it! While we don’t currently have a dedicated page on our website for Preservation and Conservation news, keep an eye on the blog and our other social channels over the coming months for more of the wonderful work happening in our division.

  2. What a great area to work in, I really love older items and documents being refurbished.

  3. What a fascinating insight into the work of the library.

  4. This is fascinating work. I recently donated 3 1955 magazines found in the attic. I may one day see them digitised.

    Regardless of the outcome I love reading about the work undertaken behind the scene.

  5. What a fascinating look at the behind the scenes workings of the State Library. There would never be a dull day at the office with so many diverse items coming into your care.

    Do you also keep the original document folders – as in those records from The Alfred Hospital – in your archives? They would be almost as interesting as their contents.

    Thank you!

    • Caring for so many diverse collecions is definitely a highlight of working in Preservation at SLV. In response to your query regarding original folders, we refer to the appropriate collection manager for advice. Sometimes a photograph or copy is a sufficient record of the original folders, without having to allow extra space for storing the original. If it is unique or significant we would keep it, however we are guided by collection staff and also by storage limitations.

  6. This article has a lot of information to take in and I shall have to re-read it to feel I have derived all the value that is obviously in it. I suppose SLV has written guidelines on collection development, culling and the like? Has it a policy on such things as sprinklers and other enemies of books? I tried hard to have sprinklers not installed in a library I was connected with: architects and other specialists assured me that nothing could go wrong, But it did and of course at a time when no one observed water pouring into shelves. Caveat emptor, indeed.
    The first law of preservation is not to allow abuse occur in the first place.
    I congratulate the author on an important piece of work and am reassured by it that SLV is doing a good job in a usually underfunded area of librarianship.

    • Thanks for your comment Russell. The Library has a range of policies related to developing and maintaining the collection, including the Collections and Content Strategy 2020 and Donations and Cultural Gifts Policy, both of which are available on our website at

      The Library has sprinkler systems throughout the 22 buildings on the city site and at the offsite store. This is a compliance requirement as part of building regulations, which includes regular checking and testing of the fire suppression systems. In addition to this stringent testing the Library has in place processes which identify any potential danger or risk to the collection during maintenance or building works, including actions required to ensure the safety of the collection. These procedures are part of the Library’s overall emergency response planning and collection disaster preparedness.

  7. Lyndal O'Donnell

    I’m very excited to have found the SLV blog, thanks to a link sent out by ASA (Australian Society of Archivists).

    Thanks so much for this article which is interesting, wonderfully informative, and very well written. Really appreciate having access to such a valuable resource!

    Looking forward to checking out more SLV blog posts.

    • Hi Lyndal, we are so pleased you enjoyed reading about the work we do in Preservation at the Library. A shout out also to the Australian Society of Archivists for sharing the link! It truly is a wonderful place to work. So many interesting collections come through both our Quarantine area and Preservation studio. Keep an eye on the blog and our other social channels (Facebook, Instagram and Twitter) where you will be seeing more from Preservation soon. I have no doubt you will enjoy many other articles on the SLV blog. There are many discoveries to be made!

  8. Thanks for a fantastic article. Even now in 2019 its relevant. I’ve joined my home towns Historical Society and everything needs help. Red Mallee dust is not good for anything. About to go check out those guidelines.

    • Hi Kerry, we are so pleased you enjoyed the article. Fantastic also that you have joined your local Historical Society to help preserve the history of the region. So much can be achieved with the support of volunteers and those passionate about cultural heritage. I take my hat off to you. I hope the SLV conservation guides prove to be a valuable resource. I would also point you to these wonderful videos recently produced by the State Library of Queensland:
      Our Collection Care branch posts regularly to the SLV instagram page if you’d like to keep up to date with some of the work we’re doing.
      Best wishes

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