The St Ursula's College archival records are prone to deterioration, even when their surroundings meet contemporary preservation standards. 

The three key causes of deterioration are:

  • the characteristics of the record, or
  • biological factors, or
  • environmental conditions.

The collection may be at constant or gradual risk of these causes, or the causes may occur sporadically or catastrophically. Many of these causes are interrelated and not all records are affected by all factors. 

Caring for Your Collections - Emanating from the National Library of New Zealand, this informative website provides practical advice on how to best preserve and care for collections of books, artworks, digital images, photographs, and sound recordings. Its content also includes digitising collections, disaster recovery and links to further information.

Characteristics of the Record

Temperature and Relative Humidity: High temperatures and high relative humidity can cause an increase in the speed of chemical reactions in records. Records begin to deform, films and acid paper begin to degrade, varnish oxidizes and dehydrated organic materials becomes fragile. High temperatures can result in static electricity and some materials, like plastic, rubber, waxes, adhesives and resins begin to melt. High relative humidity and poor ventilation results in condensation, mould growth and corrosion in metals. Although most records last longer in low temperatures, plastic and wax objects can become fragile and low relative humidity can cause some items to become brittle. Rapid fluctuation in temperature and relative humidity cause stress on items. Fluctuating temperatures, which result in extension and shrinking, can cause cracking, flaking and deformities and mechanical fatigue. Fluctuations in humidity can cause alterations in dimensions of wood, ivory, skin, metals, stone, films, plastics, wax and other organic materials resulting in warping, splitting and de-lamination. Care should also be taken with materials such as cotton and paper. Fluctuation in their equilibrium moisture content can affect their stability.

Light and Radiation: Exposure to light and ultra-violet and infra-red radiation can cause damage to organic materials such as textiles, paper, dyed materials, biological specimens, wood, lacquers and photographs. The most noticeable effect is a change in the colour of the materials – yellowing, bleaching, darkening and fading. Exposure to light is also responsible for weakening the fibres in textiles and paper.

35mm table movie projector.

Technology: Technological change can render information inaccessible. The format or media (for example, cassette, film or floppy disk) on which audio-visual material is contained may become obsolete or the accessibility of the information contained on these formats may be dependent on the availability of specialized playback technology that has become superseded. The playback equipment can also be a major cause of damage to items - for example tapes becoming caught in video players, films getting stuck and burnt by the projector’s lamp, disk drive crashes and related IT problems.

Biological Factors

Protecting a document from mould.

Pest Infestation: Organic materials in our College collection are particularly susceptible to pests. Paper, leather, cloth, glue, wood, wool, fur, feathers, hair, plants and starch provide attractive sources of food for insects and rodents. Storage cabinets and buildings can also be destroyed. Beetles, booklice, cockroaches, flies, ladybirds, mosquitos, moths, silverfish, termites, woodworms, spiders, rodents, birds and bats can digest, chew or soil collections. Plant roots and branches can also cause considerable damage to buildings which, in turn, can harm materials within the collection. Like insects and rodents fungi (or mould) eats away at materials. It can permanently discolour and stain paper, parchment, textiles and leather. It also weakens paper, making it soft and fragile. Water condensation on ceramics, glass and metal will encourage mould to grow, especially if dust and dirt are present.

Human: The actions of people, both accidental and intentional, can cause deterioration of our archive materials. Not following proper procedures during preservation; opening large books without support; and sweat, oil, mucus, saliva, dirt or hand creams deposited on the surface of documents and photographs can lead to harm. Careless retrieval can cause headcap damage in books, tearing or creasing of documents during use; and books can suffer spine damage during copying. Inattention when transporting materials from storage to exhibition spaces or from one exhibition space to another can cause damage to collection materials. Methods of storage can also cause damage. Items can become deformed if stored incorrectly or through using too small containers, or improper supports during exhibition. Piling up of items or having too many books on a shelf can also cause deterioration. Mobile shelving or having no support on shelves can also cause books to fall or slide and become damaged. Theft and vandalism are also detrimental to collections as is neglect which includes the loss of specimens through misplacement, failure to obtain legal title for acquisitions, failure permanently to record specimen data and effectively to link them to specimens, and a range of other intellectual and legal shortcomings that reduce the utility and value of collections. Neglect is also the failure to isolate infected materials in the vicinity.

Environmental Conditions

Physical forces: Physical forces may have immediate effects on our collection. Natural disasters such as fires and floods are devastating. Although not as overwhelming, leaking pipes and rain can cause water damage; and vibrations from traffic and building work can cause items in our collection to fall and break, tear or become scratched.

Dust on top of books.

Contaminants: Air pollution from motor vehicles, industry, decaying matter can cause chemical deterioration of our materials. Solid pollutions such as soot can cause deterioration by abrasion and encourage the spread of mould and insects. Air pollution can cause leather objects to rot, paper to suffer from acid degradation, dyes to fade or change colour and rubber objects to become brittle. Metals can corrode and silver and copper will tarnish. Furniture and exhibition processes can produce pollutants. Storage and display cases made of woods, plastics, paints, adhesives, textiles and rubber and formaldehyde from exhibits can damage stored materials. Objects themselves, such as those containing wood, glues, cellulose, polyvinyl, polyurethane, dyes and wool can also release harmful vapors. Audio-visual materials are especially sensitive to dust. Dust compromises the carrier reliability and abrasion from dust can interfere with signals during replay. Dust can also stain and scratch materials and tends to absorb moisture which provides suitable conditions for mould and insects. Analogue audio recordings (and to a degree analogue video recordings) are sensitive to magnetic fields emitted by microphones, loudspeakers, headsets and magnets.