Preserve, repair and conserve physical records

Records must be preserved to ensure they remain usable and clear and reliable for the entire time they need to be kept.

1. Preserve physical records

Preservation is preferable to conservation, but either way the end goal is to prolong the usable life of records, as well as retain their integrity and value.

The preservation approaches used for records will depend on their format and how long you need to keep them.

To preserve your agency’s physical records, you’ll need to:

2. Repair and conserve physical records

While good storage conditions will help preserve your records and reduce damage from occurring, you will need to conserve damaged records.

If the document is still in use and handling may cause damage, consider making a digital copy that you can use instead. Sometimes simply repackaging a record or document can help to give it a more stable, protected environment and reduce further damage from occurring.

Depending on the record's significance and how long you must keep it, specialist conservation treatment may be needed.

Contact Queensland State Archives Preservation Services for more advice. Find a specialist conservator to undertake treatment of your records, or look at some remedies gone wrong from the Australian Institute for the Conservation of Cultural Material.

Find out how to salvage damaged records after a disaster or incident.

3. The problem with sticky tape

If a document is torn and you think it should be mended, do not apply sticky tape or attempt other repairs.

Sticky tape shouldn’t be used to repair records, especially not long-term temporary or permanent value records.

Adhesive degrades and the tape itself may peel or fall off leaving the remnants of the adhesive behind. This can leave a yellow/brown  stain when the old residue becomes, dry, brittle and powdery. In addition, the degraded adhesive fails to keep the original tear together.

Instead of using sticky tape, use a polypropylene sleeve to house the torn page. It will keep the document together and stop any further damage occurring.

Sometimes the residual adhesive remains tacky so to avoid causing further damage to the record, prevent the sticky areas on the originals from contacting other materials or records. You may have to house each affected page in a polypropylene sleeve.

If sticky tape has been used to repair a record, specialist conservation treatment may be needed to remove the adhesive residue and to repair the original tear(s).

4. Laminating vs encapsulating

Encapsulating is recommended over laminating records. Never laminate long-term temporary or permanent records.

Encapsulation involves enclosing a document into a protective polyester sleeve that can easily be removed in the future and doesn’t harm the record.

Find a supplier of archival products.

Laminating involves sealing a document between two pieces of plastic film, then using heat and/or pressure to adhere to the paper inside.

Lamination can afford some protection to short term temporary records, providing a physical support and barrier to moisture and contaminants.

It is not a long-term preservation option and is not appropriate for permanent records. The plastics and adhesives break down and deteriorate over time, becoming yellow, brittle and hard or even soft and tacky. It is almost impossible to remove the original document completely from an old laminate.

5. Digitise physical records

Digitisation is a means of preserving physical records. It enables electronic access and minimises the need for physical proximity and handling of physical records.

Find out how best to digitise records

See also dispose of source records after digitisation.

6. More information