Protecting the past

Collection Management

A large part of our work is spent on preservation, conservation, cataloguing, and digitising items to make them accessible for generations to come.
There's a special machine or tool for every possible job in the conservation workshop.
Archives brought into the conservation workshop are very fragile, and need a delicate touch.
There is science and skill to conservation of historic documents. In this image a chemical treatment for unstable historic ink is being prepared.
The edges of documents are usually the first to suffer damage. It is important to store collections properly.
Consolidating very fragile paper prior to repair.
before and after
The image to the left shows a document before the conservation process, and the image to the right shows the same document partway through repair treatments.
Historic ink can be very fragile, easy to fade and remove.
Archive collections need to be stored in dry, cool conditions or else they may get mouldy like this unfortunate document.
East Riding Archives welcome tour groups to find out more about the fascinating work we do. Get in touch to find out more.

The Conservation Workshop

On your next visit to the Treasure House, take a look inside the Conservation Workshop next to the Research Room. You might be able to see our Conservator at work preserving or repairing documents.

Conservation involves both reviving documents that are close to ruin and preserving documents in good condition so they remain that way to be accessed by generations to come. We hold many valuable documents and essential records, but some do not arrive in a condition that is ready to be handled. Items could have been found covered in mould, stained by flood waters or met with a number of possible accidents. It is our job to rescue these items. Cleaning and piecing them together again before we can preserve them in special acid-free storage boxes, in environment controlled strongrooms, where they will stand the test of time. Only in this way can we maintain a permanent archive of the East Riding.

Policies on collection and access

We maintain a number of policies on our standards on preservation and access to historic records available to download and read.

Caring for the collection

Discover how our conservators take care of our collections and tips to preserve your own too

Conservators look after the physical wellbeing of historic documents and objects. In particular, archival conservators work with the various formats of historic documents in the form of books, parchment, paper, maps and plans.

We care for the ERA archive by monitoring the condition of the collection and providing a secure and stable storage environment. We assess any new items that come into the building and provide safe archival packaging. We also advise on handling and display.

In addition, we also carry out repairs to damaged documents. These can include

  • Cleaning away surface dirt (and even washing paper using specialist techniques, to remove decay by-products and pollutants).
  • Neutralising unstable inks.
  • Removing unstable historic repairs.
  • Flattening creased, distorted or rolled items so that they can be handled or photographed.
  • Repairing and re-binding books.
  • Repairing torn or weakened paper and parchment.

Conservators are specially trained in the craft and science of materials and repair techniques. They follow a code of professional ethics.

While science and modern technology certainly has a place in conservation practice, many of the techniques and tools we use are traditional and would be recognised by the craftspeople who originally created the books and documents we work on.

Conservation is not the same as restoration. We aim for minimal intervention and our job is to preserve documents and the information they contain, not return them to a ‘good as new’ condition.

Our conservator has shared tips on how you can look after your own documents and handle ours safely.

When you visit the archive to access our documents you will be provided with advice and equipment to enable you to handle documents safely.

Different formats and materials have different needs. We are lucky that the historic paper and parchment people used to write on in the past has stood the test of time, but the same can’t be said for a lot of modern paper, photo-reproductive techniques and digital media. Your documents might not be old now but we’d like to give them the chance to be around for future generations!

Tips on how to preserve your own documents:

  • Handle your documents carefully and protect items that are already fragile or damaged.
  • Make copies of documents you intend to use often, especially if they are fragile. Don’t handle originals more than you have to.
  • Use archival, acid-free packaging.
  • If you want to display a document, talk to a professional framer who should be able to advise on safe materials and mounting techniques.
  • Store your records in a suitable place – cool, dry and dark is best!
  • Things to avoid: Improvised repairs (sticky tape is a conservator’s nightmare!), too much light heat or damp, spilled food and drink.

Projects and Funding

Thanks to funding from the National Lottery Heritage Fund East Riding Archives is able to develop its important work. We've been able to buy photographic equipment to digitise records for preservation and easier access. Funding also helps us train volunteers and hold family activities. For more updates on projects, see the East Riding Libraries, Museums and Archives news page.

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