Chapter 4: Preventative care – LINGUA FRANCA – A Common Language for Conservators of Photographic Materials

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Preventative Care. Image of a modern-looking building with glass walls and a metal ceiling.

Preventative care

Library and Archives Canada Preservation Centre

Preservation is a core activity at Library and Archives Canada (LAC). A large part of this preservation work is done at the Preservation Centre in Gatineau, Quebec.

The Library and Archives Canada Preservation Centre opened in June 1997. Its facilities are dedicated to the preservation of the country's documentary heritage. This centre of excellence provides collection storage areas with optimum environmental conditions, and laboratories equipped for preservation activities.

A modern-looking building with glass walls and a metal ceiling.

Nitrate film preservation facility

Library and Archives Canada's Nitrate Film Preservation Facility was opened in 2011. It is an eco-designed building with various sustainable features, including a green roof, well-insulated walls to reduce energy consumption, high-efficiency mechanical systems to reclaim energy and technology to reduce water use.

This facility stores approximately 5,500 nitrate motion picture film reels and an estimated 600,000 still photographic films.

There are 20 cool vaults kept at +2°C, 25% RH and 3 acclimatization vaults kept at +10°C, 25% RH.

Entrance to the Nitrate Film Preservation Centre, with a deer eating the plants, during winter. Interior hallway of the Nitrate Film Preservation Centre. A plaque that says: THIS ROOM SHALL CONTAIN A MAXIMUM OF 10 STANDARD ROLLS OF CELLULOSE NITRATE FILM AT ANY ONE TIME. Exterior of the Nitrate Film Preservation Centre, in the evening.

Storage vaults for photographic materials

At Library and Archives Canada, currently there are 48 vaults measuring approximately 350 square metres each and housing a variety of archival records and publications, in four different environments. The vaults are designed to protect documents by eliminating potential threats, by using a sophisticated fire detection and suppression system. Materials inside the vault are carefully controlled to maintain a contaminant-free environment.

There is one main vault that houses photographic materials, mostly black-and-white photographic prints, glass plate negatives and cased objects. Other photographic materials are stored among the many vaults. Library and Archives Canada has the largest photographic collection in North America, with approximately 30 million items.

Photographs in the main vault are stored in boxes on mobile shelving at 18°C (± 2°C) and 40% RH (± 5%).

A long vault with movable storage racks. A woman moving one of the shelves.

Cold storage vaults

Library and Archives Canada currently has two cold vaults which are approximately 350 square metres each. These two cold vaults are connected by an interior door. One of the cold vaults has two acclimatization chambers. These cold storage vaults house colour photographic prints, colour negatives and deteriorated diacetate negatives, as well as other collection materials.

The environment is maintained at -18°C (± 2°C) and 30% relative humidity (± 5%).

Four acclimatization vaults with documents inside.
A long vault with movable storage racks.

Storage boxes for cased objects

Storage boxes made for cased objects contain minimal adhesive. These custom-made Solander storage boxes use unbleached cotton muslin, twill or cotton tape ribbon, Ethafoam® and silver cloth, which scavenges oxidative gases as they enter the box.

Two custom made Solander storage boxes on a table. One is opened, displaying a cased object inside.
An envelope being pulled out of a storage box for glass plate negatives.

Glass plate storage boxes

Glass plates are stored in Coroplast® suspension boxes. They have a spring-loaded bottom, which acts as a cushion to diminish any unexpected handling movements.

Adhesive-free spacers

Adhesive-free spacers are used to position photographic albums / photographs in a storage box. These spacers prevent movement and may provide structural stability as well.

Adhesive-free spacer. A photographic album in a box with three adhesive-free spacers.

Plastic enclosures

Plastic enclosures (uncoated and unplasticized polyester and polyterephthalate film, such as Mylar® Type D or Melinex® 516) are often used to store photographic material. Using these types of enclosures allows for visibility but may increase exposure to light. The enclosures are nonporous and act as a buffer when in contact with other materials. They carry an electrostatic charge, which can be detrimental to frail objects.

A photograph of a face of a First Nation's woman in a plastic sleeve.

Credit: Robert Taillefer

A photograph of a face of a First Nation's woman.

Custom storage boxes

Specialized housing, such as a two-piece telescoping box, is made for photographs and photographic albums that do not fit in pre-made standard housing boxes.

Generally, albums are stored horizontally and one to a container. Spacers are placed around the album and a piece of archival board is placed under the album. Two albums can be housed in one box if they are properly supported and the lid can be comfortably closed.

A custom box with a photograph album inside. A page from a photo album that has hand-coloured flowers and birds surrounding a portrait of a man with a moustache.

Handling of film negatives

How to handle a film negative:

  • Handle a negative by holding two edges.
  • The emulsion side (the matte surface) must never be slid or rotated on any surface.
  • If a negative must be moved, it should be lifted by two edges and repositioned.
  • A negative should not be held overhead or at arm's length. Use a light table for viewing, but limit viewing to 15 minutes per object.
  • If you use a loupe to view a negative, place a sheet of polyester film between the negative surface and the loupe.
Hands with gloves holding the edges of a negative.
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