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Preservation 24/7

April 12, 2012

Preservation Week is an annual education campaign begun by the American Library Association in 2010 to draw attention to the environmental threats collections face. These include everything from light, heat and humidity to hurricanes, vermin and vandals. From April 22 through 28th this year, archivists and librarians are encouraged to educate our patrons, review our disaster planning, and to take a bite out of the discipline's backlog of endangered items by each of us doing one small preservation act.

While some items in our holdings have unique needs, for most items most of the time every week is preservation week at PHS. Every week, we provide advice to congregations which want to move their essential records into a climate-controlled environment. Every week, we shoot new microfilm, or we survey the condition of our legacy microfilm collections. We make archival enclosures for rare books, we house archival materials in acid-free folders and boxes, and we mend fragmented paper. Every week.

Among her other duties, our preservation specialist Natalie Shilstut is mending a body of 18th- and 19th-century correspondence called the Ohio ministers' letters. On the left, the fragments of a letter are arranged in a mylar sleeve. At center and on the right, fragments are bound into pages with transparent mending tissue.

Ohio ministers' letters, mid-mending, 2012.

Among my other duties, I've transferred a reel-to-reel tape of an interview with the South Texas pastor Ruben Armendariz to digital audio. At right is our vintage Sony tape deck, and at left is a computer running the freeware sound editor Audacity. In this case, the necessity of preservation informs how we provide access to materials for patrons. In reformatting audio, we bring in a preservation-quality uncompressed audio file, and distribute to patrons a compressed file in mp3 format.

Open-reel audiotape transferred to digital audio.

The unsung hero of our preservation efforts, however, has to be the archives' air handler unit, which runs uncomplainingly, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, minus a little time off for required maintenance. Without AHU-1, pictured below, maintaining a constant relative humidity and a temperature below 68 degrees Fahrenheit would be impossible.

Our air-handler unit.

For more information about how we handle permanent records here at PHS, or about what we can do for your congregation, send us a line at refdesk@history.pcusa.org.