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Thursday 23 March 2017

Conservation and preservation

At the National Archives of Scotland (NAS), the Conservation Services Branch (CSB) aims to preserve and conserve our collections for the future. While preservation concentrates on slowing down degradation and preventing damage to collections by passive methods, interventive conservation treatments are required to prolong the life of documents and make them accessible.


Conservators are guided by an international code of ethics and working procedures which emphasise altering the item as little as possible. This approach, known as minimal intervention, aims to retain and record the historical integrity of the document or volume and the way it originally functioned, ensuring that conservation treatments do not cover or obliterate any bibliographical or palaeographical evidence.

Pre-conservation treatment assessment always includes visual inspection but may also involve testing of the pH levels, the solubility of inks and pigments, basic spot tests, inspection under UV and infra-red light and examination using the microscope. Non-destructive testing is always preferred. Results of these tests are summarised in reports which may also include drawings of sewing structure, tracings of watermarks and photographs. These will be available to assist and inform researchers and conservators in the future. These modern scientific techniques combine with highly developed craft skills, experience and a knowledge of historic structures and formats to inform all practical work.


Preservation strives to support access and ensure that the records can be made available to the public. To ensure preservation, the environment is carefully monitored and controlled within the NAS storage rooms. Organic materials expand and contract as ambient moisture levels rise and fall. Controlled relative humidity levels can help materials retain flexibility and ensure that mould growth does not occur. Rapid fluctuations of temperature and relative humidity affects the dimensions and mechanical properties of material and can cause warping, flaking pigment and cracked emulsion on photographic media.

To complement the environmental care all materials used in the conservation and storage of the records must meet high standards. Handling directly affects the life expectancy of the collections and increases this ageing process. Damage through poor handling is cumulative but is often not immediately apparent to the user. Care in handling reduces the need for interventive conservation work and facilitates access.

The copying of documents, particularly photocopying, raises important preservation issues. To ensure the preservation of material considered to be particularly vulnerable or which is being copied repeatedly, we may ask you to accept surrogates in the form of facsimiles, microfilm, digital or electronic copies.
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