California State Archives Virtual Mini-Tours: The Preservation Lab

By California State Archives

California State Archives Building (2020) by California State ArchivesCalifornia State Archives

The California State Archives is a division of the California Secretary of State’s Office and was created by California’s first law in 1850. The State Archives collects records from all three branches of government, as well as some local government records and private donations. Our collection includes more than 350 million records in a variety of formats including paper, maps, photographs, audio-visual, artifacts, and electronic records, which are stored on six levels of climate-controlled, secured stacks at the March Fong Eu Secretary of State Building in downtown Sacramento.

The California State Archives Virtual Mini-Tour Series gives viewers a behind-the-scenes look into the State Archives’ Stacks and Preservation Lab. This tour will take you into our Preservation Lab, where you can learn more about how our team cares for and preserves California’s historical treasures. Let’s go!

Damaged paper records on a cart inside the Preservation Lab at the California State Archives (2020) by California State ArchivesCalifornia State Archives

Welcome to the California State Archives’ Preservation Lab! Here, damaged or vulnerable records from our collection, including old and fragile documents, bound volumes, maps, and photographs, receive treatment. Our Preservation Lab is vital to the protection and care of California’s historical records and state treasures. A team of highly trained Document Preservation Technicians utilize technical skills and training to preserve, maintain, and safeguard the longevity of our diverse collections. Document Preservation Technicians safeguard these records by utilizing technical skill and training to not only preserve, or maintain, vulnerable records in perpetuity, but also to repair records that arrive to our institution needing repairs due to old age, frequent handling, damage from natural disasters, or other issues. At times, Document Preservation Technicians also provide repairs or treatments to records before they can be used by researchers in our Research Room.

In this virtual tour, you will get to glimpse the types of projects and conservation methods our Preservation Technicians use to keep our collections safe for current and future generations - as well as some illuminating behind-the-scenes demonstrations! We will begin our tour with a brief overview of commonly used materials that our technicians employ in their daily work.

CA State Archives Virtual Tour – Tools in Preservation (2020-05) by California Secretary of State's OfficeCalifornia State Archives

Watch our Document Preservation Technician, Juan Ramos, describe the types of materials and preservation methods he routinely uses in the Preservation Lab.

Bound volumes undergoing repairs in the California State Archives' Preservation Lab (2020) by California State ArchivesCalifornia State Archives

The California State Archives is home to hundreds of bound volumes containing historic records from state and county institutions such as prisons, militaries, hospitals, and other establishments. Handwritten and typed inventory lists are examples of the types of information commonly found within ledger or register bound volumes created by government entities.

In previous decades, poor understanding of proper conservation methods and materials, unstable environmental conditions in other facilities, mishandling, natural disasters, and wear and tear all contributed to the types of harm regularly found in older bound volumes. Our staff regularly evaluate bound volumes to identify those in need of treatment and two worktables in the Preservation Lab are currently dedicated to conservation projects related to bound volumes with various types and degrees of damage.

Two worn volumes undergoing repairs in the California State Archives' Preservation Lab (2020) by California State ArchivesCalifornia State Archives

These bound volumes are receiving treatments for acidity, broken spines, torn pages, worn edges, or overall extensive wear and tear accumulated over the course of a century or more.

A damaged bound volume titled "Battalions of Massachusetts Cavalry" housed within its phase box (2020) by California State ArchivesCalifornia State Archives

This military roll of names kept from 1861-1865, labeled, “Battalions of Massachusetts Cavalry,” is undergoing numerous repairs in the Preservation Lab. The most significant damage is to the spine of the book, where the cover has detached from the text block. This bound volume will undergo several repair treatments, including: deacidification treatment, mending of tears on pages, re-sewing the pages on the spine, and the reattachment of the cover to the text block. The exposed corners of the front and back cover will also need repair. This volume is currently housed in a phase box, which is a custom-made box that will protect the bound volume as it undergoes repairs. When the repairs are completed, the book will receive a new, permanent custom-made enclosure to preserve it.

CA State Archives Virtual Tour – Paper Damage in Preservation (2020-05) by California Secretary of State's OfficeCalifornia State Archives

Document Preservation Technicians encounter a variety of damage on a day-to-day basis. From insect, acid, and environmental damage to repairing previous conservation treatments, our staff must adapt to different materials and types of damage to make effective repairs. Watch as Juan explains common types paper damage found in older collection materials.

A women's suffrage petition over one hundred and forty years old from Sacramento, California (2020) by California State ArchivesCalifornia State Archives

This petition from the working papers of California’s 1878-1879 Constitutional Convention for women’s suffrage dates to 1878 and measures over seven feet long, displaying a trail of signatures down the length of its front. The front of the petition reads, “To the Constitutional Convention in Sacramento, California, assembled. The undersigned citizens of California, respectfully petition your Honorable Body to so amend the Constitution that no citizen of the State shall be disenfranchised on account of sex.” Hundreds of names were signed in the hopes of garnering enough support to amend the California Constitution to grant women the right to vote. Though this effort was unsuccessful, women’s suffrage passed in California more than 30 years later in 1911.

The back of the document bore the brunt of centuries of surface dirt accumulation from rolled storage. This side, mostly blank, was surface cleaned using white artist erasers. The front of the document is filled with signatures in pen and pencil and demanded a more careful surface cleaning so as not to erase any pencil writing. Document cleaning pads favored by architects and draftsmen of old were carefully used to clean surface dirt without jeopardizing the signatures written in pencil. The tears and worn edges from handling are being treated and reinforced through the application of specialized Japanese mending paper and purified wheat starch.

CA State Archives Virtual Tour – Preserving by Encapsulation (2020-05) by California Secretary of State's OfficeCalifornia State Archives

Watch as Juan demonstrates and explains the process of encapsulating a record in protective material with an ultrasonic welder.

Records relating to Folsom State Prison undergoing repairs at a workstation (2020) by California State ArchivesCalifornia State Archives

In the back of the Preservation Lab, a large workstation holds a series of connected conservation projects on records related to Folsom State Prison. This includes a Folsom State Prison mug book, a yellowed page of newspaper article covering the case of a Folsom State inmate, and two petition scroll pages related to the inmate’s case that were mentioned in the newspaper article. The different records are currently being treated for acidity, tears and damaged edges.

In the next video, watch as our Document Preservation Technician discusses the Folsom State Prison mug book and demonstrates a repair on one of its pages.

CA State Archives Virtual Tour – Book Repair in Preservation (2020-05) by California Secretary of State's OfficeCalifornia State Archives

Watch as Juan discusses the Folsom State Prison mug book and demonstrates a repair on one of its pages.

Commonly used materials and documents handled in the California State Archives' Preservation Lab (2020) by California State ArchivesCalifornia State Archives

Thank you for joining us and we hope that you have enjoyed this virtual tour of the California State Archives’ Preservation Lab. For more information or questions, please contact our Preservation Lab at archivesweb@sos.ca.gov.


Please join us on our other virtual mini-tours to learn more about the California State Archives and its collections.

Credits: Story

California State Archives
Sacramento, CA

All records, photographs and videos featured are property of the California State Archives and the California Secretary of State's Office.

A special thank you to our videographer, Adam Christy, to our photographers, Thaddeus McCurry and Brian Guido, and to Juan Ramos for sharing his knowledge and expertise for this virtual tour.

Photography by Thaddeus McCurry and Brian Guido.
Filmography and editing by Adam Christy.
Text by Noël Albertsen and Juan Ramos.
Virtual tour by Noël Albertsen (2020).

California State Archives
A Division of the California Secretary of State's Office
www.sos.ca.gov/archives
1020 O Street
Sacramento, CA 95814
Email: ArchivesWeb@sos.ca.gov
Reference Telephone: (916) 653-2246
General Information: (916) 653-7715
Fax: (916) 653-7363

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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