Fragile Records Policy

Fragile Records Policy

National Records of Scotland (NRS) has a duty and a commitment to preserve the records in its care. Staff and readers regularly find records in a condition which would merit attention from conservation staff. This policy sets out the procedures for reporting and dealing with such records.

Summary

  1. Unfit for production
    An item which is marked unfit for production (UFP) must not be produced to either a customer or a member of staff and must not be sent for copying of any kind.
  2. Records at risk
    An item marked 'record at risk' may be produced for a customer or member of staff but it must not be sent for copying of any kind. They are commonly protectively wrapped in strong, acid-free paper.
  3. Designating records
    Only a conservator can mark an item UFP or 'record at risk', using the appropriate label.
  4. Surrogates
    Where records are labelled UFP or 'record at risk' and a surrogate is available then the surrogate should always be produced.
  5. Cases of uncertainty
    If there is uncertainty about whether an item should be produced or not because of its physical condition it should be referred to Conservation Services Branch (CSB).

We have a dedicated conservation team who oversee the general condition of our holdings and undertake repair work where necessary. This work is necessarily expensive, both in material and staff time. Because of this, we often have to make choices and set priorities about what we can and cannot undertake. Where records require repair and are urgently required by customers we shall always do our best to assist. However, the practicability of a task, the volume of work, the costs, and the overall value to the public of the records in question must also be taken into consideration when deciding what is possible and appropriate for us to do.

Linda Ramsay
Head of Conservation
National Records of Scotland
February 2016

Guidance on Fragile Records

1. Items marked unfit for production

An item which is marked unfit for production (UFP) must not be produced to either a customer or a member of staff and must not be sent for copying. Please note that glass plate negatives must never be produced.

Request by a customer where the customer is not present

The archive attendant must inform the search room archivist that the item is UFP. The search room archivist must try to contact the customer to inform them that the item is UFP.

Request by a customer where the customer is present

The archive attendant must inform the customer that the item is UFP and refer them to a search room archivist if they wish to pursue the matter. In any case, the attendant must inform the search room archivist that the item is UFP.

If the customer wishes to take the matter further, the search room archivist must ascertain the importance of the record to the customer's research and give the item a priority rating as follows:

  • High the item is essential for the customer's research
  • Medium the item would be desirable but is neither essential nor urgent
  • Low the item is not in fact required

If the item is high priority:
The conservator must first assess the item and determine whether repairs are practical and whether there are the resources (staff time and materials) available to undertake it. The conservator should then inform the search room archivist whether the work is to proceed and how long it would take.

The search room archivist must then inform the customer either that the repair is to proceed or explain why it cannot.

If the repair does proceed, the search room archivist should check regularly with CSB that the work is progressing on target and keep the customer informed accordingly. CSB must treat the item as urgent and make it fit for production as quickly as possible. CALM will carry up to date information on the status of the access conditions to the record. Once the item becomes fit for production, the conservator must inform the search room. Search room staff will then inform the customer.

If the item is medium priority:
As with high priority items, the conservator must first assess the item and determine whether repairs are practical and whether there are the resources (staff time and materials) to undertake it. The conservator should then inform the search room archivist whether the work is to proceed and how long it would take.

Items which are given a medium priority will take six months or more to conserve. CSB should add the item to their list of records for treatment and inform the search room when treatment is complete. Search room staff will then inform the customer.

If the item is low priority:
The item should be referred to CSB using CALM so that it can be marked with a new label and identified as UFP on CALM and, if required; packaged and assessed.

Request by a member of staff

The archive attendant must inform the member of staff that the item is UFP.

Staff from listing branches must notify CSB using CALM.

All other members of staff must notify CSB using CALM, either directly or by getting a CALM user to make the notification.

2. Items marked 'Record at risk'

Only a conservator can mark an item 'record at risk'. They must use the label. The date that the record is produced must be recorded on the label by the archive attendant. Once the record has been requested five times it should be referred to CSB.

3. Cases of uncertainty

If an archive attendant finds material which is not marked UFP but looks in poor condition, it should be brought to the search room archivist, who will decide if it can be produced or if it should be referred to CSB. The record will be treated as a high priority (see above). If the item is referred to CSB, procedure at 1 above should be followed.

4. Wrapped material

An item which is wrapped in blue paper usually indicates a record at risk. Such an item should be treated as a record at risk (see 2). The wrapper for the item should be kept and replaced before the record is returned to storage.

5 Surrogates

If there is a surrogate available for any item requested then this should be produced for the customer. If a customer particularly asks to see the original instead then the archive attendant should refer them to the search room archivist.

6. Unrequested material

If any member of staff finds material which has not been requested but looks in poor condition then it should be referred to CSB via CALM. Priorities should be applied according to the CALM cataloguing standards.

High Documents in a weak and unstable condition; there is a risk of information loss, for example, loose pages; cannot be accessed or copied; evidence of mould/mycological growth as a potential health and safety risk; require conservation treatment to prevent further loss.
Medium Disfigured or damaged; usable for study; signs of deterioration and so continued use would cause further damage; images of this record in this condition would harm the reputation of the NRS.
Low Disfigured or damaged but stable, for example, heavily soiled; usable for study but may require further treatment to prevent eventual deterioration; packaging to be evaluated and upgraded; images of this record in this condition may harm the reputation of the NRS.

NB These categories complement the priorities applied to customer demand.