Preserving Records

Part of the Delaware Public Archives’ mission is to “…preserve public records of enduring historical and evidential value.” Although the majority of the Archives’ holdings are documents and books, there is a significant amount of audio, video, microfilm, photos, and electronic media; each format has different storage and handling needs.

The following information informs our work at the Delaware Public Archives, but it also contains helpful information for preservation at home.


What is preservation?

Preservation is reducing the risk of deterioration to and extending the life of records.

Preservation strategies:

  • Digitization and reformatting
  • Proper storage and handling
  • Environmental monitoring
  • Conservation treatments

What is conservation?

Conservation is repairing or stabilizing records to extend their usable life.

Storage and Handling

General Storage Guidelines

  • Use properly sized acid-free containers so that records do not slide.
  • Boxes should be filled so that records are not slumping, but not be so full that material is hard to retrieve. If boxes are not full enough, use acid-free spacers to keep material from shifting or sliding.
  • Store objects and oversize material flat, in appropriately sized boxes or map drawers.
  • Label boxes and folders appropriately so that materials are not misplaced.
  • When folders are used, score lines should be creased so that documents are resting flat on the bottom of the folder and do not slump.
  • If material is in poor condition, only a few records should be put in a folder.
  • Records should be stored in a cool, dark, dry area; maintain a stable temperature and humidity.

General Handling Guidelines

  • Handle materials carefully and as little as possible.
  • Ensure materials have proper, acid-free support when they are being viewed.
    • Keep materials flat.
    • Do not let materials hang off the edge of the surface.
    • Do not prop archival items with other materials.
  • Transport documents in folders or boxes with proper, acid-free support.
  • Keep hands, supplies, equipment, and work areas clean and free of food or drink.


  • Remove all post-it notes, rubber bands, and metal fasteners.
  • Surface clean documents, if necessary, with an archival dry cleaning sponge or dusting brush.
  • If possible, unfold and flatten documents without causing damage to the document. Humidification may be necessary for brittle or inflexible paper; contact a conservator.
  • Photocopy newsprint, fax copies, and other acidic documents, or store them separately.
  • Store documents in acid-free folders that suit the size of the material being stored.
  • Store fragile or torn documents within individual polyester enclosures.


  • Do not “dog ear” pages and use caution with bookmarks.
  • If items inserted between pages should remain, consider storing them within polyester enclosures.
  • Use archival or document repair tape – not household tape – to repair tears.
  • Use a book cradle to decrease the opening angle and support the covers.
  • Store small- to medium-sized books vertically; store large books horizontally.

Audiovisual (A/V) items

A/V material includes sound and video recordings, cassettes, audio tape, film, CDs and DVDs, reel-to-reel tapes, and more.

  • A/V material must be stored separately from other material and individually housed in acid-free boxes, sleeves, or cases appropriate for the format of the material.
  • Digitize the material if possible; audio as FLAC or MP3 file formats and video as MP4.
  • Store films flat, in acid-free cans and on cores.
  • Handle A/V material by the edge or outer shell, to avoid touching the surface of the recording medium.
  • Ensure playback equipment is well-maintained and cleaned regularly.


Photographic material includes photographic negatives and prints.

  • Handle photographs with clean cotton or nitrile gloves by their edges.
  • If marking photographs for identification, write softly with a graphite pencil on the back.
  • Do not use tape, sticky notes, rubber bands, paper clips, or other fasteners.
  • Photographic prints can be stored in archival folders, four-flap enclosures, or sleeves.
  • Glass-based photographic formats should be handled with care, housed in proper enclosures and boxes, and marked as fragile.
  • Framed materials should be removed from their frames.
  • If possible, store similar size negatives and prints together for evenly distributed support/weight.
  • Prints and oversize photographs should be stored horizontally; vertical storage is best for glass-based formats.


Microforms include 16 and 35mm microfilm, microfiche, aperture cards, cartridges, and COM fiche.

  • Security microfilm rolls (the original or best-condition copy) must be wound tightly on the spool, secured with a string and button tie, and placed in an acid-free box.
  • Handle microfilm with clean cotton or nitrile gloves.
  • Store microfiche vertically, in an acid-free box that suits the materials being stored.
  • Acetate-based microforms should be segregated from those that are polyester-based; acetate will degrade quickly if stored improperly and develop vinegar syndrome.

Additional Resources

Archival Supplies Vendors