Cultural institutions and private collectors alike can struggle with the financial costs of preserving collections. Archival boxes, folders, and custom enclosures can be pricey, but there are ways to reduce the cost of housing while also providing a stable environment for collections. When the Archives received a large collection of oversized exhibition drawings from the National Air and Space Museum (Accession 17-013), we had to get creative with housing.
There were several factors we took into consideration when determining how to house this collection. First, the collection was digitized before being transferred to the Archives, so digital surrogates would be available for researchers. This reduces the need to handle the original drawings. Secondly, limited space was available in our flat file storage. We simply didn’t have enough room for the drawings to be stored flat. Thirdly, the drawings were in stable condition and posed very few preservation concerns. For these reasons, rolling and storing in our off-site facility was the best choice for these materials.
Once we decided that rolling was the most appropriate choice for storage, we quickly realized how expensive support tubes and tube boxes can be! While the decision was made to use archival tube boxes for the exterior housing, we achieved the real cost-savings with the inner support tubes. Rather than using expensive acid-free blueboard tubes, we used more affordable white mailing tubes, measuring forty-eight inches in length and two inches in diameter.
If this is setting off your preservation sirens, have no fear! To create a barrier between the non-archival tube and the drawings, 3-mil uncoated polyester terephthalate film, aka Mylar®, was wrapped around the tube and secured using polyester double-sided tape (See Image 1, above). Each section of Mylar® was cut to an appropriate width, allowing one inch of overlap once rolled around the tube. Double-sided tape was applied to the longer sides of the Mylar® and then rolled tightly to avoid gapping between the tube and the barrier film.
Once this preparation was complete, multiple drawings could be rolled around the tube (See Image 2, right). A large enough stack of drawings was formed so that, once rolled and inserted into the box, they fit snugly against the interior walls (See Image 3, below). This helps prevent the drawings from shifting in the box when handling. If needed, acid-free, buffered 20-pt. bond paper was used as interleaving to protect adjacent drawings from staples, friable inks, or incompatible materials.
This modification to housing produced a significant cost savings. We only spent 10 percent of what we would have using traditional archival materials, while still achieving an appropriate housing system. For other examples of innovative housing strategies for oversized collections, please visit:
- Stabilizing Special Collections for High-Density Storage, Library of Congress
- Storage Solutions for Oversized Paper Artifacts, Northeast Document Conservation Center
- Storage of Architectural Materials, Syracuse University Library
Thanks(giving) for the memories—a preservation family project, The Bigger Picture, Smithsonian Institution Archives
You Asked, We Answered: 2015 Ask an Archivist, The Bigger Picture, Smithsonian Institution Archives
Collections Care Guidelines & Resources, Smithsonian Institution Archives