Preservation at the Snyder County Historical Society Library

Historical Societies: News and Highlights presents news and information about Pennsylvania's regional and county historical societies.

The constitution of the Snyder County Historical So­ciety states ” … the object of the society shall be the dis­covery, collection, and preservation of all materials which may in some way be of value in preserving the history of the county …. ” Since its inception in 1898, the historical society has been collecting memorabilia related to the history of Snyder County. During that time, as with any historical collection, a certain amount of deterioration in the physical condition of the materials has taken place. The primary task of those facing this problem, is to attempt to minimize this deterioration by applying restoration techniques which are both available and affordable. The material must also be organized if it is to be of use to researchers.

Particular problems encountered by the Librarian of the Snyder County Historical Society and the conservation methods used to combat them are outlined below in the hopes that others with similar difficulties may find the information useful. It should be noted that the methods suggested here are for low-budget operations. Where greater resources and professional archivists are available, more sophisticated equipment and procedures can and should be applied. A fumigator, for example, should be used to control insects, mildew, etc., when possible, but cost can be restrictive as it was in this case. Nevertheless, actions can be taken and the following techniques were employed.


Problems of Deterioration

Three basic problems encountered were: infestation (bugs), humidity (mold) and acidity. The first thing done was to carefully clean the materials and in the process, eliminate the silverfish which had infested much of the area and caused extensive damage. A very simple and inexpen­sive method used was to sprinkle Borax in the vicinity of (but not on) the collection. The results were evident within a week. A picture frame which was sprinkled with Borax, for example, yielded an inch of dead silverfish across the entire bottom edge.

A second common problem was mold and mildew, which resulted from uncontrolled humidity. A simple remedy was to brush away the spores with the aid of a “Magic-Rub” eraser, paper tissue or cotton cloth. To keep humidity down, a dehumidifier could be purchased and in­stalled.

Yet another problem arose where excessive heat and moisture were present and caused the alum-rosin com­pounds used in making paper to generate sulfuric acid. A symptom of this was that the paper developed brown spots and streaks and became brittle. Textual collections should be stored at approximately 70° F and 50 percent humidity, photographs and film at an even lower tempera­ture and humidity (40 percent). Attics or other places where temperatures are uncontrolled should be avoided as storage areas.

A number of techniques were used to reduce the acid content in various materials. A sponge damped in a solu­tion of Milk-of-Magnesia and water was applied around the edges and front covers of books to reduce the acidity. Also, a chemically impregnated paper known as “VPD” Paper deacidifies any material it comes in contact with. When placed in a closed environment, the “VPD” Paper emits vapors which aid in the removal of acid. The paper is relatively expensive but when it comes to preservation, it is worth its weight in gold.

To preserve such items as photographs, slides, news­papers and manuscripts, special acid-free boxes, folders and envelopes were purchased. Each item was then stored separately: photographs, newspaper clippings and photo­copies were not intermingled. Storing these together would result in the migration of impurities from paper to paper which causes discoloration. In order to protect papers and manuscripts from general wear and tear, they were placed in mylar sheets (transparent but very stable polyester material) and put in notebooks. Finally, photo­graphs and prints were framed with acid-free mounting and mat board and will be kept in storage areas where the environment can best be controlled.

Foil record jackets, pH meter kits and preservation/encapsulation are less familiar to many than the mending tapes, mylar page protectors and three ring notebooks, but all are vitally necessary to preserve a collection. The initial financial outlay for such materials may seem high, however, in the long run, the costs will be lower if steps are taken before extensive deterioration begins than if applied after the collection has been neglected.


Organizing the Library

The next task, after cleaning the books, was to organize the society’s library into a system which would prove use­ful to visitors and staff. A number of different cataloging methods can be used, but, because the Dewey Decimal System is both easy to work with and familiar to most people, it was selected for use in the Snyder County His­torical Society Library. (A revised edition of “Dewey” can be ordered from your local library for about twelve dollars.)

The Dewey system reserves the 900 section of a library for books related to history. However, since a historical society concentrates on history, it makes sense to catalog books and pamphlets according to subject matter, i.e., religion, transportation, patriotic societies, etc. Materials related to the history of each county and its communities were broken down into specific classifications. The Dewey assigns 974.8 to Pennsylvania, but each county has its own number, Snyder County, for example, being 974.849. For more information on this ask your local librarian to see the unabridged Dewey catalog book.

After classifying and accessioning the material, catalog cards were created for each book. A title card, subject (or subjects) card(s), author card, and shelf list card were typed according to standard rules which a librarian can explain.

An accession book is a necessary tool for any library to record all items in the collection. Each book is assigned a separate number. Following the number there is a place for author, title, date published, catalog number, and re­marks. A photocopy of the completed accession record should be placed in a bank security box for insurance purposes.


The Future

The next stage will be the organization of the photo­graphs, manuscripts, memorabilia, etc., which the society has in its possession. Before this will be attempted, how­ever, further study will be made of the proper techniques and procedures. For those who are presently at this stage and require guidance, it is suggested that the Division of Archives and Manuscripts at the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, Box 1026, Harrisburg 17120, be contacted for assistance.

The maintenance of a collection is an ongoing task, otherwise, control of the material can be lost in a short time. After all, the mere collection of books and records is not the sole object of the historical society. It is the careful organization and skillful preservation of historical material that makes it available to the public and renders it useful to those who seek for knowledge of their heritage.


Ruthann Snook is librarian of the Snyder County His­torical Society.