The Abbey Newsletter

Volume 9, Number 7
Dec 1985

Arizona Puts Teeth Into Preservation Law

Last April the Arizona legislature revised its law governing public records (A.R.S. 39-101) to set up a records management division under the Department of Library, Archives and Public Records (LAPR), and--most importantly--to direct the Department to set standards for preservation of all historically important public records in the state, including local records.

By August the Department of LAPR had issued "Standards for Permanent Records Media and Storage," a 10-page document that spells out the principles of modern preservation for archives. These standards should make it easier for officials to conform to the new law, which for the first time authorizes standards for permanent storage, allows public records to be kept on electronic media as well as on film and paper, and includes preservation as a responsibility of the records manager.

The standards cover paper, microfilm, boxes and storage environment. They do not go so far as to require the use of permanent paper for all public records, because the law itself did not, but they do seem to be strict and fairly realistic and up-to-date. They require records custodians to inspect records annually, on a sample basis (at least l% of all human-readable records); and to file a certificate of conformity to the standards, at least yearly.

Briefly, the main requirements are:

Microfilm: These records, like the paper records, are of two types, each with its own set of standards: permanent (to be retained 500 years or longer) and long-term (up to 100 years). This section, however, is the only one that refers to any formal standards. (It cites ANSI standards for manufacture of the film and for residual thiosulfate, but not the standards for storage containers and conditions.) Permanent records on microfilm are to be stored on polystyrene reels, in "plated metal cans or peroxide free plastic boxes" without any kind of retainer, not even a paper strip, to hold the loose end. It seems strange that no paper, not even acid-free buffered paper or board, is allowed anywhere near the microfilm. Larger containers of acid-free corrugated paper are permitted. The storage area must be secure, fire-protected and free of water sources; silver halide film must not be stored with other kinds; temperature and relative humidity (RH) must not vary more than 5 or 67., but may be set anywhere within a wide range (T 32°-70°, RH 20%-40%); the area must be relatively dust-free, and free of rodents, insects and active fungi. No standards are set for indoor pollution levels.

Paper: the standard permits the use of paper (presumably for storage enclosures) made of fully bleached wood pulp as well as of cotton or linen and requires a pH of 7.5 to 9.5, at least 2% carbonate filler, and both internal and surface sizing with an alkaline or neutral size.

Storage Containers: the standards for boxes made of boxboard are similar to those for paper. Corrugated document boxes have to be free of lignin and harmful adhesives, but only the paper that lines them has to be acid-free and buffered. Like the paper, the corrugated boxes have to be both internally and surface sized.

Storage Environment: These standards set different ranges for temperature and RH (60°-75° and 30%-60%) but, as in the standards for microfilm storage, require only that fluctuations be avoided, and do not recommend low temperatures or relative humidities. (In view of the massive body of evidence for the preservative effect of low temperature and RH, and the demonstrably minimal effect on materials stored in containers of variations in environmental conditions, this omission sounds like a significant mistake.) Ultraviolet light must be controlled by filters or other means. Air must be circulated, and filtered, though not with electrostatic filters.

It is always cause for celebration when enforceable laws for preservation of records, like this one, are passed and standards implemented. Fortunately, the details are specified not in the law itself, but in the standards, which can be changed readily to refine them and keep up with current practice. Other states might do well to follow Arizona's example. Other states should not, however, simply copy these standards, but should improve on them by referencing the latest versions of existing standards wherever appropriate--for example, the new ANSI standard on permanent paper. This will provide an automatic updating mechanism. Guidance on technical aspects not covered by existing standards can be found in the publications of conservation scientists (not administrators) from the major labs like those at the Library of Congress, National Archives, Kodak, Smithsonian Institution and Canadian Conservation Institute. This will help prevent both omission of important specifications and inclusion of unnecessary restrictions.

Copies of the law and the standards can be obtained from Marty Richelsoph, Division Manager, Records Management Center, 1919 W. Jefferson St., Phoenix, AZ 85009.

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