When Archives Attack

by Lane Tillner, graduate assistant

Archives are a place of collection, protection, and preservation for a variety of historical materials.  They are a safe place.  Yet, they can be potentially harmful to one’s health.

While processing the William Beasley Papers, a former English professor, I have come across rusty paperclips and rusty pins.  I have even come across a binder whose metal bracket had rusted to the point it took several minutes to try to open it.  As a result, I have been joking with Donna, the University archivist, about contracting tetanus.  However, in all seriousness, especially with older collections, paperclips and pins, used by the creator of the collection to create a sense of order, over time rust and become possible health hazards.  It is important to consider this and use caution when you come upon this situation.

Rusted paperclips and pins

When things get rusty…

What other possible health hazards does an archive pose?

Archives contain materials that, as they age, produce dust particles and allergens. Some of these materials may also be dirty, as a result of previous storage methods.  Even mold formation is a threat. While some of these processes cannot be completely avoided, measures can be taken to prevent this as much as possible.  These measures can be in the form of specialized gloves and masks as well as attempts to eradicate mold.  Similarly, lifting heavy boxes or using ladders can be a common occurrence in archives.  Again, it is important to take measures that can prevent any possible injury that might occur.  Finally, the worst health risk in the archives is the evil paper cut.  Those little devils can hurt.

Archives are not always the safe haven as they are considered, but with proper measures, you can prevent catastrophic workplace injury!

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