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Fragile documents

Archivists are keen to provide access to their archives whenever they can but they have to balance this with the preservation needs of the records.

Records are sometimes closed because they are too fragile to be handled. Sometimes readers will be given access to surrogates, or the archivist will place the documents on the table and turn pages for the reader, to ensure specialist handling.

Occasionally, a document may be prioritised for conservation but this can take weeks or even months and the reader won’t get to see the document until the work is completed. Conservation is very expensive so this is not always an option. It is unfortunately possible that none of these solutions will be feasible and the reader won’t be able to see the record at all.

When ordering copies of fragile record, readers may be told

  • The record can’t be copied.
  • The record can be copied but will require specialist handling/photography, which may take longer and be more expensive.

If you visit a reading room and are concerned about the fragility of the documents you are consulting, ask an archivist for help. They can either assist in the handling or offer advice.

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