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Preservation at the DRT Library, Part 1

May 18, 2010

“Archivists protect all documentary materials for which they are responsible and guard them against defacement, physical damage, deterioration, and theft.”

Code of Ethics for Archivists

Last week, we highlighted the inaugural National Preservation Week. In this post, we’ll describe some of the ways in which The Daughters of The Republic of Texas Library preserves the materials entrusted to it from damage and theft.

A view inside the DRT Library's vault.

Storage facilities: Archival collections, pre-1900 newspapers, artwork, old and/or rare maps and books, and photographs are housed in a secure vault at the library. Environmental conditions within the vault are monitored and maintained at all times and daily fluctuations are avoided. The temperature in the vault is kept near 60°F and the relative humidity is kept near 50%. This cooler environment will not accelerate harmful chemical reactions; the drier conditions prevent mold growth, although storage spaces with a relative humidity that is too low can result in materials drying out and becoming brittle.

The importance of the temperature- and humidity-controlled vault for special materials in the Library’s collections cannot be overstated, as indicated by archivist Mary Lynn Ritzenthaler in Preserving Archives and Manuscripts:

The highest preservation priority of every archival institution is to provide environmentally controlled quarters for the storage and use of its holdings. This is a mass preservation approach that benefits all items in a repository. A heating, ventilating, and air conditioning (HVAC) system, though expensive to install and maintain, is the most cost-effective means of caring for collections. Money expended to provide a suitable physical environment will extend the useful life of collections and minimize later expenditures for costly reformatting or conservation treatment (110).

A map case in the reading room.

Storage furniture: Materials located in the reading room are shelved in painted wooden cases. These shelves are not ideal for library materials due to potentially harmful decomposition by-products; however, all shelves have been lined with glass to create a protective barrier between them and the books. Maps, architectural plans and drawings, and other oversize materials are stored in metal map cases with large pull-out drawers (shown above). All other library and archival materials are stored on metal shelves. Metal storage furniture is the current standard in libraries and archives, and their inert finishes do not interact with materials.

Compact shelving for some of the Library's book collection.

Housing: Fragile books are protected in custom-fitted, acid-free boxes or pamphlet folders. Archival materials, maps, sheet music, and photographs are also housed within acid-free boxes; inside, materials are further housed in protective plastic sleeves and/or acid-free folders. These chemically stable enclosures do not react with, and therefore damage, the materials being stored. Mary Lynn Ritzenthaler notes that “appropriate storage and housing systems provide many preservation benefits to [library and archival materials], including rigid support; safe means of handling and transport; protection from light and dirt; protection against fluctuating temperature and relative humidity; and preliminary protection against water damage” (173-174). The images below show some of the enclosures used to house materials at the DRT Library.

Acid-free boxes for letter- and legal-sized archival documents and photographs.


Acid-free boxes (plus plastic sleeves, folders, and other storage supplies) are available in a variety of sizes and dimensions.


Documents are housed in acid-free folders within boxes.


Fragile documents may be enclosed within special plastic sleeves and/or between acid-free papers.


Small, thin books are often housed in protective folders to prevent loss or damage from larger items.


Fragile library books are enclosed in custom-fitted, acid-free boxes.



Kay Garsnett, “A Preservation Evaluation of the Daughters of the Republic of Texas Library at the Alamo,” paper completed for “Preservation of Information Media” class, School of Information Studies, University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee, December 2009.

Mary Lynn Ritzenthaler, Preserving Archives and Manuscripts (2009).

One Comment leave one →
  1. tim permalink
    May 18, 2010 6:46 pm

    A very good desciption about how an archives works and their importance.

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