Conservation of records is an important component within any Archives Management Programme. It ensures that records of enduring value are preserved for the benefit of present and future generations. As such, it is a prerequisite for an archival institution to have a preservation/conservation programme, where all the norms of preservation and conservation are put in place to control internal and external agents of deterioration of archival materials and to retain records as long as they are needed.
Conservation or archival preservation refers to the specific steps undertaken to maintain, repair, restore and otherwise conserve archival records. Some of the basic archival conservation techniques include encapsulation, fumigation, microfilming, photocopying, and photographing, amongst others.
Objectives of Conservation:-
- To conserve, protect and preserve the archival records so that they are available to users in the best possible condition; and
- To keep the records in usable condition for as long as possible.
The Preservation/Conservation Programme of the National Archives
For the purpose of preserving our national records, a Conservation Unit has been created under Section 12 of the National Archives Act No. 22 of 1999, to cater for archival materials, which are subject to deterioration or which require attention. This Unit comprises of the following sections:-
Each of these sections has its own specific functions and each contributes to the conservation and preservation of records at The National Archives Department
(a) Preventive conservation - putting into action the norms to prevent deterioration. In the absence of air-conditioning system, measures have been taken to have all the records well aerated to keep humidity and heat under control. The records are housed in acid-free boxes to protect them from light, heat and dust. In respect of insects and rodents, pest control is carried out on a monthly basis to prevent the proliferation of insects and rodents. Regular cleaning of stack areas, records, and shelves is also effected. In addition, regulations with regard to manipulation and handling of records by the public in the search rooms are displayed.
The Bindery Unit is involved in preventive/restorative conservation. It deals with the sewing and re-covering, minor repairs, binding and stitching of records and volumes.
(b) Restorative conservation - A set of activities is initiated to repair, restore deteriorated paper documents. While doing so, it is important that the originality of the record be retained. This task is carried out at the Restoration Unit which was created in 2001 and the technique used constitutes one of the oldest scientific method to conserve paper manuscripts. It is also a reversible technique.
(c) Content preservation - A set of actions are initiated to reproduce certain documents with a view to preserve their contents. Microfilming, photographing, photocopying and digitization are common means used to safeguard the content of the records. The reprographic section and the microfilm section at the National Archives cater for these methods.
Actually many of our records have been:-
- photographed; and