Our Documentary Heritage showcases holdings drawn from the vast collections of the Pennsylvania State Archives.

Preservation is a primary responsibility of all archives. Although the Pennsylvania State Archives, just like the Coca-Cola Archives, the Ford Motor Company Archives, the Chester County Archives, the University of Pennsylvania Archives and various institutional archives of religious denominations and numerous private organizations are responsible for identifying, accessioning, describing and making available the archival records of the institutions they serve, preservation and good stewardship are essential functions common to all historical records repositories. Since its formal inception in 1903, the Pennsylvania State Archives has acquired more than two hundred and twenty million documents, photographs, maps, posters, postcards, CD-ROMs, films, videos, and audiotapes. These records range from land records on the lower Delaware River predating founder William Penn to the resignation of Governor Tom Ridge, in early October 2001, enabling him to head the nation’s Office of Homeland Security (see “Our Documentary Heritage,” Spring 2002).

The staff of the Pennsylvania State Archives takes the initial step in preservation when they survey and identify records held by government agencies that have lasting, or archival value and arrange for their eventual transfer to the State Archives in Harrisburg. Basic steps are taken at the State Archives to stabilize the records and halt further deterioration or physical damage. Such preliminary efforts include the removal of foreign materials, such as paper clips, staples, and tape, and placing the items in acid-free folders and containers. Archivists then consider the best methods to ensure the continued viability of their informational content. In some cases, reproduction on film or micro­film will minimize the handling and inevitable wear and tear, while providing greater accessibility to the information. In other instances, the intrinsic value of a document dictates intensive conservation treatment to ensure its existence.

Over the past several years, the Pennsylvania Heritage Society, through the generosity of its members, has assisted the Penn­sylvania State Archives in acquiring critical conservation services for several of the Commonwealth’s most basic documents. Recognizing the specialized treatment required for these early records, the Pennsylvania Her­itage Society has highlighted one or several documents during its annual fundraising efforts. Beginning in 1997 with the conservation of the Royal Charter of 1681 granted by King Charles II to William Penn (see “This Venerable Document” by Linda A. Ries and Jane Smith Stewart, Winter 2000), the organization – made up of members from throughout the Keystone State and beyond – has sponsored the restoration of early Native American treaties, the engrossed laws of 1701, and the 1682 list of First Purchasers.

Conservation is an ongoing concern for archivists, and in preparation for the massive renovation of the Pennsylvania State Archives facility, staff members are currently involved in a project to place more than ten thousand loose volumes in proper archival storage containers. This project will ensure safe handling during their move to secure storage facilities and continued protection once they are safely returned to the newly renovated Pennsylvania State Archives by 2007.