Skip to Main Content
University of Texas University of Texas Libraries

Storage and Care of Architectural Records

This guide is meant to be a general overview of best practices that can be implemented and resources that can be consulted for the preservation of architectural record materials. The intended audiences are institutions that hold architectural records as p

Storage, Use and Handling

Storage, Use and Handling

Storage systems can range from simple in-house boxing to compact storage installations, but they all essentially provide the same function: the isolation of materials from light, dust, harmful adjacent materials, and added protection from physical forces of crushing, bumping and accident.


Storage materials - Ideally, non-acid-free storage materials should be replaced wherever possible. When purchasing boxes, paper or folder stock, the term acid-free should not be confused with buffered. Buffered indicates that there is an intentional deposit of alkaline material in the paper stock which can absorb a certain amount of acid from the contents of the folder or the surroundings. This is usually a desirable factor, but contact with alkaline materials may cause color shifts in color photographs, some color media, and in blueprints and cyanotypes (especially if the materials get wet). You will also see the term lignin-free. Lignin is a substance native to trees which contributes to discoloration and brittleness in wood-based paper. It is usually removed during processing of wood pulp destined for “archival” papers.


Boxes and folders are an effective means of creating micro-climates and provide support and organization for loose, rolled materials in storage fixtures or furniture such as stack ranges and flat files. Boxes of acid-free board are available in many standard shapes and sizes for legal files, glass plate negatives, newspapers, film reels, etc. Some vendors will create custom sizes to fit a non-standard size collection of objects with an order of as few as 10 boxes.


If your budget is limited, you may choose to purchase only acid-free and lignin-free paper and folder stocks, instead of both buffered and unbuffered . Another solution is to purchase buffered folders, and interleave color materials with non-buffered papers. Cost-saving options include using non-acid-free materials (such as cardboard roll holders) to temporarily support the materials wrapped in acid-free paper or polyester, but these should not be considered to be safe long-term storage units.


Storage furniture - Museum quality metal flat files with baked epoxy finishes are best, and wooden or particle board flat files should be avoided. If the latter are your only options, they should be lined with barrier materials such as archival blotting paper or a metallized polyethylene such as Marvelseal™ to avoid contact with the wood. Normally, per manufacturer's instructions, flat files should not be stacked more than three high. You should always have enough room to open the flat file drawer completely before attempting to take out materials, and have a support board ready to hold the materials you are selecting. Hanging map files are not recommended for use with archival, fragile materials. 


Use and Handling - Reduce damage in-house by using proper methods and common sense when handling. Create and use designated carrying boards (oversize sheets of Fome-cor® or acid-free corrugated board) to support flat materials. Have these at the ready when you are taking items out of flat files. Use trucks to transport several rolls, books or boxes at a time and have empty tables at the ends of stacks to hold material. Do not use trucks where oversized materials are sticking out of their storage area.


Reduce damage by users. Most damage to materials happens through use, including careless handling and note taking. Many institutions create guidelines for users regarding the use of rare and fragile materials.


Self-destructive paper and other materials  Some materials such as acidic paper, cellulose nitrate or cellulose acetate plastic films are self-destructive and a danger to other materials. Controlling the environment can slow the deterioration but not completely prevent it. In some cases, the degradation of one type may severely affect neighboring material and should be identified and isolated. Dye components and chemical residues or degradation products in prepared print reproduction or drawing papers (such as sepias) can migrate from sheet to sheet, discoloring and obscuring information. Deteriorating cellulose nitrate motion-picture or print negative film is a definite fire hazard, especially where it is in volume and in an uncontrolled environment; cellulose nitrate film in the form of transparent drawing supports is a lesser hazard. Early formulations of cellulose acetate are subject to deformation, shrinkage, and severe embrittlement.


Cellulose nitrate and acetate give off gaseous nitric and acetic acid respectively as they decompose. These acids are irritants in high concentration and contribute to the deterioration of neighboring materials. Isolation by removal or reformatting problematic materials such as these may be the best option to ensure the survival of the information.


Three-dimensional objects - (such as architectural models, material samples, and plaster maquettes) are often fragile due to the materials and methods used in their construction, are subject to all the vulnerabilities mentioned in the above sections, and may be structurally unsound. They should be stored in a location that protects them from bumping and frequent movement. Sturdy, braced, deep open shelving rated for the weight of the objects is an excellent option. The objects or shelves can be draped in undyed cloth (to prevent light fading) and/or polyethylene sheeting to prevent build-up of dust. Smaller objects can be custom-boxed or put in standard boxes filled with acid-free tissue or polyethylene foam spacers to prevent movement within the box. If you wish to display three-dimensional objects such as models, they should be enclosed in a display case and covered when visitors are not present. If you do not have access to a display case, the object should be covered whenever possible to prevent fading and the accumulation of dirt. Accumulated dirt may be brushed off with a soft brush, but one risks dislodging flaking media or unstable parts of the object. Vacuuming with a standard vacuum cleaner is not recommended. It is best to seek the advice of an objects conservator before attempting to clean an object.



Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 Generic License.