Archival Processing: Processing & Preservation


Physical processing entails all of the work done with the actual materials to maintain or create order within the materials of the collection. Steps taken during processing can also serve as preservation actions that will help mitigate risks for record deterioration. The notes below cover the most common concerns regarding physical records. When in doubt about how to treat a record or group of records, speak to the Archivist to discuss the options.


  • Wash hands before handling materials
  • No food or beverages near collections
  • No pens in collection areas
  • Oversize items should never be moved without assistance
  • Do not write, lean, or place any object on the surface of any collection materials
  • Use gloves only to handle sensitive formats like photographs, films, and negatives


Every item in a folder. Every folder in a box/drawer.
Items fit the folders. Folders fit the box/drawer.

  • As much as possible, every item should be housed in an acid-free folder and that folder should be housed in an acid-free box (or a drawer for oversized items). 
  • Use folders that fit the items (i.e., don't fold legal-sized records to fit in a letter-sized folder; don't place over-sized documents in a regular-sized folder).
  • Don't overstuff the folders. Don't fill beyond the score marks.
  • Use spacers in boxes, when needed, to keep records from slouching.

Moving Materials

Always Be Carting!

  • Always use a cart to move materials from place to place.

Folding Folders

It's important to use folders in a way that the materials inside them sit flat in the archival boxes. Make note of the score lines along the bottom edge of the folders. Use these, or create your own when needed, to fold each folder to the correct width for the papers included in each.

Sticky Notes

Sticky notes are frequently used to provide temporary description during the processing process, but note:

  • only apply notes to the outside of archival housing (boxes, folders)
  • avoid placing notes on mylar sleeves (they often leave a residue)
  • never place them directly on archival materials
  • make sure to remove all sticky notes by the end of the processing process

Paper Clips and More

  • Remove all paper clips, rusty staples, or anything else that is causing harm to the papers (you can leave any staples that are in good shape).
  • Use a piece of acid-free paper, folded in half, to wrap and hold papers together in place of the paper clip or staple (like a little folder).
  • Do not use plasti-clips! They create many of the same problems as regular paper clips (creasing pages, creating bulk in the folders) and break apart quite easily.



  • sleeve when possible (mylar or paper sleeves)
  • interleave with acid-free paper (when sleeving isn't an option)
  • never write on photographs - write on the sleeve if description is called for

Audio/Video Tapes

  • store vertically, standing on edge


  • store flat


As much as possible, artifacts should be housed within appropriate containers. Small artifacts can often be housed within records boxes alongside paper records, given the right housing options. Regardless of physical location, artifacts should be described intellectually in fitting with the overall series structure. Avoid creating an "Artifacts" series.

Let's discuss!

Assorted media, oddly-sized materials, artifacts ... these sorts of records all have unique preservation needs. Discuss issues as they arise with the Archivist to come to solutions that best fit the collection.

Additional Resources

Caring for Archives: Fundamentals for Everyone by Fletcher Durant (University of Florida; 2016 October)

Preservation from the National Archives & Records Administration