Processing Guidelines: Chapter 5, Preservation Methods and Issues at the Archives of American Art

Chapter Contents:

Box and Folder Labeling

Box Labels:

  • Linear foot box: Avery 5168; affix completed label on the RIGHT handle-side of the box (your right-hand side with the plain side of the box facing you and the printed “Hollinger” side facing the back). On the front side of the box, pencil in the collection title and box number.
  • Hols: Avery 5164; affix completed label to side of box with pull loop.
  • Pams: Avery 5163; affix completed label to end of box (lid should open in clockwise motion).
  • Sols/shoeboxes: Avery 5163; affix 2 completed labels for each box; one on the short (handle) side and one on the long side of the box.
  • OVs: Avery 5164; affix the label to the lower left corner (folded edge) of the folder; also write the name of the collection (last name first if a personal name) in black magic marker on the folded edge of the folder.
  • Including a list of series found in the box is optional for minimal-level processing and required for full processing.

On the folder tab, the label format is as follows:

  • Left Corner:  Series title, subseries title
  • Middle: Folder title    
  • Right Corner: Inclusive dates of materials within folder
  • Left Corner Below Tab: Collection title (Full processing only)
  • Right Corner Below Tab:  Box and folder number

Rehousing and Interleaving


Minimal/Full Processing Interleaving: When fully processing a collection, always place interleaving paper between documents and highly acidic items such as newspapers, telegrams, or thermograph paper. Older collections may contain correspondence or other typed documents on highly acidic, brown, brittle paper which should be interleaved from other documents. However, consult with your supervisor when you’ve identified an excessive amount of material requiring interleaving. It may also be necessary to place interleaving paper or sleeves around items that are especially fragile, brittle, or rapidly deteriorating. Do not use interleaving paper as a form of enclosure around documents to indicate arrangement. General document interleaving isn’t required during minimal processing, however, it may be necessary to occasionally add a sheet of interleaving paper in a folder of mixed material to separate and protect documents.

Interleaving Paper: Permalife buffered paper (letter or legal size) or non-buffered interleaving tissue (8x10 or 11x14). Buffered paper is still recommended, but not required.

Rehousing: Documents should be housed in legal-sized acid-free folders. Do not fill the folders more than approximately ½” thick. Large sets of material such as draft manuscripts should be divided into multiple folders. The folder label can indicate the part (1 of 3, 2 of 3, 3 of 3) to maintain the original order of a set of material across several folders. Use this method when rehousing items from a 3-ring binder into archival folders.

Folders should be stored in linear-foot white Hollinger cartons or, for smaller extents, in gray metal-edge boxes. Be sure to use the box size appropriate to the extent and do not leave boxes under-filled. As a test, folders can be pushed towards the front of the box, and there should not be space enough to slide your hands into the back of the box. Also, be sure not to over-stuff a box. As a test, when pulling a single folder from the box, it should slide out easily without any extra effort. If a small amount of space remains at the back of the box when it is filled, place a spacer made of corrugated board at the back of the box. Do not use tissue paper or smaller storage containers as spacers.

Re-use archival boxes and folders when possible, erasing any former labeling. However, do not reuse any materials that have a strong odor of vinegar or mildew. These should be discarded.

General Tips:

  • Relevant articles can be photocopied or cut out of magazines and the magazine discarded. Remember to also keep the cover and table of contents if this provides full citation information.
  • Preservation photocopying can be done at the discretion of the archivist. Photocopies should be made onto Permalife paper. Consult with supervisor if you plan to photocopy more than a few items in a collection. Examples of preservation photocopying would be fragile news clippings, original acidic folders, and covers of dismantled binders or notebooks.
  • Archival polyester enclosures aren’t generally used at the Archives for document storage, however, they can be used to house highly fragile and significant documents which could be handled often by researchers. Consult with supervisor if you’ve identified a need for this type of enclosure.
  • Documents should be removed from plastic sleeves, unless the collection contains a large quantity of sleeved material. For minimal processing, priority should be given to removing items from sleeves if the existing plastic pages have become brittle, discolored, sticky, or obviously deteriorating.
  • Post-it notes or other items with exposed adhesives or adhesive residue should be interleaved. Post-its found on documents should be removed and if they contain archival information, placed on a piece of interleaving paper within the original order of the documents.
  • Letters and other documents should be removed from envelopes and unfolded. Documents should be unfolded and flattened within a folder.
  • Removing fasteners (paper clips, staples, ties, etc.) from documents is required when fully processing, but is not required for minimal processing. Further details on preservation of fastened documents can be found on NARA's website at:


The physical storage requirements of scrapbooks and albums vary, depending on their size and condition. Scrapbooks may be integrated with archival materials in document boxes or folders. Volumes in boxes should be stored spine down, adjacent to materials of similar size. Corrugated board cut to the size of the folder can be placed on either side of the folder to provide additional support. Scrapbooks with weak covers or those with covers attached by strings looped through the pages can be tied together with unbleached linen or cotton tape. The bow knot should be positioned at the foredge to prevent interference indentations on the cover caused by pressure. Better protection for scrapbooks and albums is provided by wrapping them with acid-free paper/tissue or storing them in a protective box. Contact the Head of Collections Processing if you are interested in a custom box option. Oversize scrapbooks should be stored flat in a 16x20 flat box or odd-sized box. Flat storage for oversize volumes also provides better protection for artifacts that might be loosely attached to the pages.

Scrapbooks where the cover has become detached or the binding has come apart should be dismantled into multiple archival folders either in a regular storage box or within oversize folders. Be sure to indicate the part (1 of 3, 2 of 3, 3 of 3) to maintain the original order of a set of material across several folders.

Interleaving is not recommended unless there is indication that photographs or artwork are being damaged by acidic materials on an adjacent page. Too much interleaving can damage a scrapbook binding. Items that have come loose from pages can be placed within folded interleaving paper or envelope and placed next to that page. Do not remove loose items found within scrapbooks into a separate folder unless absolutely necessary.


Artwork should always be unfolded and stored in the appropriate sized folder. Charcoal, oil crayon, soft pencil, and pastel drawings should be interleaved with smooth interleaving paper, either micro-chamber paper or Hollinger thin interleaving paper with the smooth side facing the artwork. Watercolors and small paintings on board should be interleaved using the non-buffered Hollinger thin interleaving paper, not Renaissance, Permalife, or Microchamber paper. Sketches or prints in ink, pencil sketches, or otherwise stable works on paper do not need to be interleaved.

Oversized Material

The Archives has four map-folder storage options for oversized material: 16x20 (stored in flat box), 20x24, 24x36, 30x42. When minimally processing a collection, oversized items such as blueprints, maps, posters, newspapers, can remain folded in a legal sized archival folder. If the folded items are original artwork, damaged, or highly significant, unfold them and place them in the appropriate sized map-folder. When fully processing a collection, oversized items should always be un-folded.

Always place oversized materials in the appropriate sized map folder. Single items from multiple series can be stored in one folder. Use Permalife paper or an archival folder to label the item. They should be labeled with the standard folder information, as well as a box/folder cross-reference to the archival folder that it was pulled from, if applicable.

Interleaving tissue should be used for artwork, but is not required for other types of documents. Too much interleaving tissue can cause damage to items within the folder over time. For large folders containing fragile materials, corrugated board can be placed under the item to provide support.

Items that fit within a 16x20 map-folder can be placed into a sol storage box. This box then given a container number as part of the collection. If the material fills less than ½ a sol box, then the map folders will be individually barcoded and counted as collection containers and placed into general OV storage by the registrar.

Consult with your supervisor if you have oversized items that are bulky, works of art that are framed or on canvas, or are larger than a 30x42 map-folder. Special oversized flat boxes can be ordered as needed.

Artifacts and Odd-Sized Papers

Small artifacts that are not fragile can be wrapped in acid-free tissue (optional) and placed in a pocket archival folder. Alternatively, small artifacts can be placed in a small shoebox or within its own pam or hol. Tissue can be used to wrap the items or to provide support around the item inside of the container. The Archives does have an artifact cabinet for small/medium-sized artifacts that are fragile, highly significant, or cannot easily be stored within a standard-sized box. Consult with your supervisor if you have artifacts that may need to be stored in this cabinet.

Items that are accessioned as rolled documents should be rehoused into oversize map-folders if they can be flatted without damage. Items that need to stay rolled should be interleaved with tissue as needed and wrapped in a large piece of acid free paper (an oversize map-folder can be used) and tied with cotton tying tape. Only a few items should be included in each roll.

Bound volumes include stock books, ledgers, albums, scrapbooks, etc. Consult with your supervisor if you have a volume that should be shelved vertically in the Archives' bound volume storage area. Volumes should be wrapped in archival paper and tied with cotton tying tape. The volumes should not contain any loose items that could fall from the pages when retrieving the volume from the shelf. Volumes that have been stored in the Archives' bound volume storage that contain loose items should be moved to a sol or other storage container.

Archival "shoebox" containers can be used to store notecards, inventory cards, and snapshot photographs. Snapshot photographs can be stored as sets within the appropriate-size negative envelope. The envelope should be labeled with the same information that is included on a folder label. It is recommended to barcode each of these boxes individually and not to store them within record storage boxes.

Weeding, Deaccessioning, and Redacting

You may weed and dispose of small amounts of duplicates without your supervisor’s approval. Other types of documents typically weeded include utility bills, payroll, homeowners and auto insurance documents, check stubs, bank statements, office equipment manuals, and printed materials that add little understanding to the creator’s life or work, or are simply voluminous and easily found elsewhere.

You may also remove contemporary published books that are not annotated, not written by the creator, do not contain illustrations by the creator, or are not about the creator. Published books or duplicate exhibition catalogs should be offered to SI Libraries. Published exhibition catalogs that feature the creator’s work, or are for exhibitions held at the creating gallery should NOT be weeded. Large amounts of published materials should be brought to your supervisor’s attention.

The disposition of a large amount of material – more than the routine archival weeding of duplicates and non-archival documents – requires notifying your supervisor who will review the materials with you and complete a Disposition Notice, which is a recommendation to the Registrar who provides the final approval and signature. The Registrar will decide the best way to dispose of the materials, which could include returning to the donor.

At all processing levels, you should try to identify materials that contain Personally Identifiable Information (PII) or other sensitive information. Some of these items are not archival and can be disposed of as routine weeding or turned over to the Registrar for return to the donor. Some documents may have archival value, and the personally identifiable information should be redacted. This action should be discussed with your supervisor.

  • Large quantities (more than 0.5 linear feet) that are weeded or returned to the donor should be noted in the Deaccessions note in the collection’s ArchivesSpace record.
  • Redact information by making a photocopy and blacking out the PII on the photocopy and then replacing the original in the folder with the photocopy. The original document should be removed and stored in a separate folder or box that will be closed to researchers. Notify the Registrar about barcoding these PII folders/boxes.
  • If privacy concerns exist throughout an entire series, in a quantity that is too large to take the time to redact, it may require restricting the series. This assessment should be made in consultation with the Head of Collections Processing, Registrar, and Head of Reference Services.

Materials that often require restriction/redaction/weeding:

  • Medical and psychiatric records
  • Personal financial information (account numbers, PINs, statements, checks)
  • Records concerning litigation (other than published court records)
  • Student records (including letters of recommendation, test scores, writings)
  • Personnel records including job applications and resumes
  • Material containing social security numbers
  • Documents concerning a person’s private affairs (especially third-party)

Common Exceptions:

  • Documents were created 75 years of more prior to the present date
  • The individual whose privacy is concerned is known to be deceased

Note: Contractors should weed, but not dispose of the materials. Contractors should set aside these materials and a staff person will dispose of them.

If you have material to transfer to the AA/PG library, please contact the library before bringing over the materials. You can bring materials to the library on a cart, or they can also come over and review the material in your office if you have questions about what can be transferred. They will accept:

  • Books (any subject)
  • Exhibition Catalogs
  • Auction Catalogs
  • Art Periodicals
  • Invitations, Pamphlets, Printed Ephemera
  • Marked/annotated copies
  • Multiple duplicate copies
  • Vertical files containing printed material on artists

Preservation of Photographic Materials


Minimal Processing: it is recommended to interleave personal photographs dating before 1950. Additionally, photographs that are deteriorated (such as early color photographs), damaged, or particularly significant should also be interleaved. Photographs of works of art, copy prints, and bulk sets of photographs should not be interleaved. Interleaving may be necessary for photographs that are included in folders of mixed material to protect them from highly acidic documents such as newspapers, telegrams, or thermograph paper.

Full Processing: it is recommended to interleave all personal photographs.  It is not necessary to interleave copy prints, photographs of works of art, or bulk sets of photographs, especially color photographs dating after 1980. It is recommended to interleave all photographs that are included in folders of mixed materials. Decisions not to interleave should be considered on a case-by-case basis.  When extensive interleaving is necessary, the work could be completed by an intern or volunteer.

Existing Enclosures: Photographs should always be removed from glassine, brown paper envelopes, or envelopes from photo-processing companies. It is recommended that photographs be removed from plastic binder storage pages, especially if the plastic has become brittle, discolored, sticky, or obviously deteriorating. When minimally processing a collection, removing photographs from plastic pages is at the discretion of the processing archivist based on time, extent, and current condition of the material.

Interleaving Paper: Photographs should be interleaved using “Renaissance” paper, interleaving tissue, or MicroChamber paper. MicroChamber paper is especially recommended for photographs that smell of mildew or other odors from previous storage conditions. A full sheet of paper should be used and may be folded to enclose one photograph or multiple photographs placed side-by-side. Do not cut interleaving paper to the size of the photograph. Though it has been used in the past, Permalife paper used for general interleaving is no longer recommended for photographs because the paper has not passed the Photographic Activity Test (PAT). Buffered or non-buffered papers that have passed the PAT may be used. According to the NEDCC Preservation Leaflet 5.6.

In the past, conservators have recommended the use of neutral paper enclosures for storage of color images, cyanotypes, and albumen prints. It was believed that these processes were sensitive to the alkalinity in buffered papers. Recent research has indicated that buffered storage enclosures are not detrimental to photographs. Therefore whether paper is neutral or buffered is not a major criterion for choosing an enclosure.

Photographs may be stored in paper envelopes at the discretion of the processing archivist, however this is not required. If using envelopes, those without thumb cuts are recommended.

Photograph Albums

Preservation decisions for photograph albums vary greatly depending on the current condition of the album. The archivist will have to determine whether the album pages should be interleaved, whether the album should be dismantled, and whether additional interleaving is needed for photographs that have become detached from the album. When minimally processing a collection, do not take the time to interleave or dismantle albums unless they are especially significant, vintage, or damaged. Extra preservation steps could be noted and later completed by an intern or volunteer. Here are preservation methods to consider for full processing:

  • Albums composed of highly acidic paper should be interleaved. If possible use thin/tissue interleaving paper so that the book does not become overly thick.
  • Interleave detached photographs using thin/tissue interleaving paper folded within the pages where the photograph was originally attached.
  • In rare circumstances where most of the photographs from an album have become detached it may be best to dismantle the album and store the photographs in archival folders.
  • Self-adhesive photograph albums are especially damaging to photographs. Peel back the plastic and check the condition of the adhesive. If the adhesive has become dry and the photographs no longer stick, dismantle the album and store photographs in archival folders. If the photographs are still fully adhered to the pages, no preservation actions can be taken.


Slides should be stored in plastic slide pages or slide boxes. For full processing, extensive duplicate slides should be discarded and slides stored in older plastic pages should be transferred to new archival slide pages.

For minimal processing, only transfer slides to archival slide pages if the existing plastic pages have become brittle, discolored, sticky, or obviously deteriorating. Extra work, including transferring slides or weeding duplicates could be flagged for work by an intern or volunteer.   

For both minimal and full processing, slides should be rehoused into slide boxes if they were previously stored in photo-processing boxes, carousels, or cases. Remember to keep any existing paper labels, tabs, and dividers, or transcribe existing descriptive information onto archival dividers that are included with the slide boxes.


Film-based negatives found within archival collections are cellulose nitrate, cellulose acetate, or polyester. To learn how to identify these three types, please refer to the Image Permanence Institute online guide.

Negatives should always be removed from glassine, brown paper envelopes, or envelopes from photo-processing companies.

Nitrate and acetate negatives are unstable formats and will continue to deteriorate unless they are in cold/frozen storage conditions. When conducting a survey of a collection, if you find nitrate negatives or acetate negatives displaying vinegar syndrome, please notify the Head of Collections Processing to determine whether these negatives should be discarded. Extensive exposure to degrading film can be hazardous to your health. Please wear gloves and work in a well-ventilated area if you need to handle this material. If the decision is made to keep nitrate negatives or acetate negatives showing signs of vinegar syndrome, they should always be stored in separate containers from other collection material.

Nitrate negatives can be digitized and deaccessioned from the collection. Nitrate negatives should be isolated and discarded during SI calls for hazardous waste disposal; this is managed by the registrar and not the responsibility of the archivist.

Acetate negatives that are not showing signs of vinegar syndrome may be stored in a box containing other material; however they should be placed in a separate folder because they will continue to deteriorate. If fully processing the collection, interleave acetate negatives with MicroChamber paper or use negative envelopes.

Polyester negatives are a very stable format and can be stored with other photographic or mixed material. It is still recommended that negatives be placed in a negative envelope or folded piece of interleaving paper to separate it from other items in a folder. They can be interleaved as a group and not each individually.

Glass Plate Negatives and Lantern Slides

Glass plate negatives should be stored in a negative storage box appropriate for their size (8x10, 5x7, 4x5). Each glass plate should be placed in a paper envelope with the emulsion size facing away from the envelope adhesive. Corrugated board can be used as support within negative storage boxes. Odd sized glass plates should be placed in an envelope for the next size up, or in a handmade four-flap enclosure. If odd sized negatives are stored with other negatives, use corrugated board to provide extra support.

If removing glass plates from old enclosures (small boxes, folders, or envelopes), transcribe any descriptive information onto the new negative envelope.

If the collection contains enough negatives of one size to fill at least half of a storage container, rehouse the items into that container and label it according to our collection labeling guidelines. If the collection contains just a few negatives, they should be added to an existing “Miscellaneous Glass Plate” storage container. Miscellaneous containers are available for all three standard sizes. Each envelope will need to be barcoded and added to the collection holdings record.

Lantern slides are typically a smaller format than glass plate negatives. They are usually color images (transparencies) placed within two pieces of glass and masked with tape on the edges. The Archives has not fully established a standard method of housing lantern slides, however, if a collection has large quantities, appropriate sized boxes (similar to Hollinger brand slide boxes) and four-flap enclosures can be ordered.

Please consult the Head of Collections Processing if special supplies are needed for rehousing glass plates or lantern slides.

Preservation of Audiovisual Material

Newly accessioned collections with poorly housed audiovisual media are re-housed by the AV Archivist following the AV survey of that collection. Processing archivists who find poorly housed AV media in collections may always use their judgment as to whether they can afford the time required to re-house media if existing housing is broken, deteriorating, or unsupportive. Archivists are encouraged to consult with the AV Archivist about rehousing issues or large quantities of material that is improperly stored.

Seating in collection containers

  • Typically, most magnetic media and grooved discs can be physically arranged in boxes and folders like any other type of documentation. Special collection containers can be considered for large-sized media objects, or for large volumes of smaller-sized media objects.
  • Discs 10” in diameter or smaller can be stored vertically in regular collection containers and folders. Larger discs can be stored flat in sols if there is only one or a few discs. If more than a few grooved discs are found in a collection, special housing will be required to store them vertically; bring these to the attention of the AV Archivist.
  • Shoeboxes can be used when there are many sound cassettes, micro-cassettes, or small videocassettes.
  • All sound reels, sound cassettes, videocassettes, and video reels should be stored vertically, not flat.  It does not matter which edge they rest on.
  • If motion picture film is found in mixed material collection containers, contact the AV Archivist so that the item can be inspected and moved to motion picture film storage.