Paper Conservation



The Weissman Preservation Center offers a spectrum of services for the care of unbound special collections artifacts on paper, parchment, papyrus, and other related support materials; these include but are not limited to manuscript and printed documents, drawings, prints, watercolors, architectural and engineering records, posters, illuminated manuscripts, and maps. The types of services provided include:

Preservation assessments

Site visits to your repository may be arranged to assess the general preservation needs of the repository collection as a whole or of a particular collection. Combined with an environmental assessment  a preservation assessment is an ideal first step in developing preservation priorities for your collections. A written report is prepared for the repository after the assessment and on-going assistance in meeting the repository's preservation goals is provided. Click here to inquire about an unbound paper or other collection preservation assessment for your repository.

Conservation surveys

A condition survey is an essential tool for assessing the stability of individual objects in a collection; its findings allow treatment or housing needs to be prioritized. A condition survey is a systematic activity in which the condition of each object in a collection is noted and prioritized by paper conservation staff on a custom-developed form or spreadsheet. Condition notes for each object and a summary written report is prepared for the repository at the end of the survey. When this information is combined with the curator's or librarian’s priorities, a treatment and housing workflow is established. This activity may be undertaken with any sized collection, staff availability permitting, but is most realistically undertaken with smaller collections (up to 3,000 objects).

Sometimes a condition assessment is more appropriate for a collection. Less comprehensive than a survey, an assessment is often completed on collections prior to digitization to flag items in need of stabilization before being sent for imaging. Condition notes are cursory and may not necessarily be provided for every object. Click here to inquire about an unbound paper or other collection conservation survey or assessment for your repository.

Conservation treatments

The primary aim of conservation treatment of Harvard's unbound special collections, always undertaken in consultation with and with the approval of the curator or librarian of the collection, is to stabilize them for access and to prevent further damage or deterioration. Improvement in image legibility or the aesthetic appearance of an individual object may be an additional goal. Treatments are performed on individual items or on collections or groups of objects of similar type and condition. Typical treatments include actions to reduce mold residues, reduce superficial grime and accretions, remove pressure-sensitive tapes and associated adhesives, reduce stains and discoloration, improve flexibility of brittle and deteriorated paper, mend tears and splits, reduce planar deformations, compensate for losses, and consolidate flaking and powdering media.

Archival housing

It is important that collection objects be stored in chemically and physically stable enclosures. Objects stored in poor quality enclosures are at a greater risk of on-going deterioration and damage. Preservation assessments of the present housing of individual objects or collections will permit the development of a re-housing strategy to optimize storage in a cost-effective and space-conscious way for each repository, collection and/ or unique object.

Presentations and workshops

Special collections paper conservators are available upon request to provide workshops and presentations about, but not limited to, proper handling techniques for specific types of objects or  collections; identification of materials and techniques of paper, parchment, and other support production; drawing, manuscript, print and reproduction materials;  types of seals found on documents; and watermarks. Click here to discuss presentations and workshops that will meet the particular needs of your staff.

Technical analysis of materials

The Weissman Preservation Center uses a portable X-ray Fluorescence spectrometer, polarizing light and  stereo binocular microscopes, ultraviolet light, and raking light to examine materials and  provide crucial information used in dating artifacts, in understanding an artist’s or author’s use of materials, and in developing treatment options. These services are available to the Library community.