Managing Documentary Art Records in the Government of Canada


In the Government of Canada, departments and agencies generate large quantities of visual documentation in the form of documentary art records, that are significant to their operations. While the majority of these records are created by design and communications sectors for publications and posters, some departments document their activities and their staff by commissioning portraits of officials, sketches and illustrated reports. In addition to these more informal records, the Government of Canada produces official art records such as seals, heraldic devices and coats of arms, which identify formal bodies and are used to legalize documents. Many such art records exist throughout the different levels of government and are used as part of daily operations, providing us with visual information that supports activities, programs and policies.

Unfortunately, these records have not traditionally been included in records inventories nor brought in line with standard record-keeping practices. Government institutions, however, are becoming increasingly aware that they need to manage all their information regardless of media, including documentary art. Library and Archives Canada (LAC) has thus developed this guide, Managing Documentary Art Records in the Government of Canada, to assist departments in the identification and management of these records. The guide provides advice and guidance on the identification organization storage, conservation retention and disposition of documentary art records and associated contextual records. It will assist federal government departments in ensuring record-keeping accountability, help information managers identify documentary art records within their holdings, and provide guidance for special handling and preparation for disposition. Its primary purpose is to promote the good management of documentary art records in the Government of Canada so that institutions can meet their own information needs and, at the same time, ensure the survival of government documentary art of enduring value.

[Note: Throughout this guide, selected terms appear in boldface and are defined in a glossary in Appendix A.]

I Documentary Art Records

Since its inception the Government of Canada has used documentary art to help fulfil the mandates and carry out the operations of its many institutions by promoting and documenting institutional activities. Examples of this are travel and immigration posters which were used extensively to attract settlers to Canada in the 1890s; the work of official Canadian war artists hired to document military activities during the First and Second World Wars; Royal Commission material amassed during a commission's life, e.g., the Citizens' Forum on Canada's Future, which included illustrations by children indicating their thoughts about Canadian unity; and finally, the official seals of the Governor General of Canada, which change upon the appointment of a new Governor General. Documentary art has also been used to substantiate the official nature or legality of the government's records through the use of official seals and heraldic or identification devices, including flags, coats of arms, crests and logos.

In the daily operations of government, documentary art records can provide visual information in support of the activities, programs and policies of federal departments and agencies. All documentary art is a record and, like any memorandum, letter or electronic file connected to government business, it must be organized, preserved and scheduled for disposition according to good information management principles. Through the management of their documentary art records, government institutions can meet their own information needs, fulfil legislative and policy requirements, and help preserve the corporate memory of the Government of Canada.

What are Documentary Art Records?

Documentary art records are drawings, paintings, prints, medals, seals, heraldic devices, posters, reproductions or caricatures that document Canadian history, government and social development. Documentary art records also include objects considered as ephemera, such as trading cards, postcards, greeting cards, flyers, buttons and lapel pins. Visual documents may not only depict objects, scenes, historical events and people, but they may also reflect public opinion and attitudes, and, at times, they can become cultural symbols, as often seen in government promotional campaigns.

Documentary Art Formats

Documentary art records are produced in a wide array of sizes and technical formats, and it is likely that government institutions possess many types of documentary art. The recommendations in this guide apply to the formats most commonly found in departments and agencies. The following formats are included:

Official documents

  • heraldic devices (flags, coats of arms, crests, logos)
  • seals
  • medals and medallic designs
  • coinage and currency designs
  • philatelic productions and preliminary artwork

Promotional material, i.e., design work and final product for:

  • exhibitions
  • publications
  • posters
  • advertising campaigns

Administrative documents

  • seminar and training aids
  • portraits of officials
  • internal information dissemination posters, kits

Research and development

  • material documenting research and program activities

Program documentation/special events

  • records of royal commissions/enquiries
  • public/private competition entries for designs (such as flag proclamations)
  • courtroom drawings
  • material relating to royal visits, state visits, Olympics, world fairs.

Please note that photographic records are covered in a separate guide titled Managing Photographic Records in the Government of Canada.

Legislation and Policy

Whatever their form, documentary art records under the control of government institutions must be managed in accordance with Canada's existing information laws and policies. Some of the legislation and policies relevant to the management of documentary art are:

  • Access to Information Act
  • Communications Policy
  • Emergency Preparedness Act
  • Government Security Policy
  • Management of Government Information Policy
  • Library and Archives of Canada Act
  • Privacy Act

Ownership and Copyright

It is important to remember that all documentary art records collected or created in the course of government work belong to the Government of Canada and, like other government records, must be included in the information management program of the institution that created them. Crown ownership applies to documentary art created with government funds, materials or equipment, either by government employees or by contracted artists, unless otherwise specifically stated in contracts or agreements. In instances where private agencies or individuals have created documentary art records for government institutions, it is essential to preserve the original contracts so that the physical ownership, copyright and other legal specifications pertaining to the records can be established and demonstrated if required.

II Organizing Documentary Art Records

Government institutions need to organize all their records so that information can be identified, located and retrieved quickly and accurately. This is especially important for documentary art records because, unlike textual records, their information content is not always immediately apparent. Although some documentary art records can easily be identified, most people rely on the caption associated with the documentary art record.

Organizing documentary art records in a government institution can involve many tasks, such as choosing the best storage locations, selecting a classification scheme, assigning control numbers, writing descriptive captions, and creating finding aids, indexes and other retrieval mechanisms. The appropriate organization system will effectively meet the institution's needs, safeguard the materials from unnecessary damage and be easy to use. A good inventory of documentary art records will also list the related documentation that explains the context of these records, their uses and relationship to government programs and activities. Related documentation can take the form of financial records associated with the purchase of a piece of documentary art, original contracts, model release forms, field notebooks, indexes, finding aids, caption sheets, newspaper clippings or press releases. The selection of an appropriate classification system will be based on a thorough knowledge of the documentary art records held in the institution and of the way they are used.

File Location

In most government institutions, documentary art records will be found throughout operational areas such as libraries, documentation centres, media relations offices, and professional development and training areas, where they may be interfiled with paper records, displayed on walls or maintained in distinct collections. Many art records also remain in the personal workstation of the records' creator. Knowing what documentary art records an institution has and where to find them is the first step towards effectively managing these records. Institutions should endeavour to locate all collections -- large and small, active and dorman -- ;and include them in their corporate inventory of information holdings. Once the documentary art records have been located, it will be much easier to integrate them into departmental records management systems and disposition plans.

Volume and Growth of the Collection

The size of a documentary art collection and its rate of growth are important considerations in deciding where to store the collection as well as how much description is practical and what kind of retrieval system will be most efficient. Generally, documentary art-creating areas send "camera-ready artwork" off site, but since this artwork is not considered archival, it can be disposed of under a disposition authority issued by the Librarian and Archivist of Canada. Titled Authority for the Destruction of Transitory Records, it is available on the LAC Web site. The majority of other documentary art records are kept with the documentation files for the project to which they relate, with the exception of oil paintings or posters hanging in working areas. For the latter, there is usually a central distribution area, such as a clearing house or publications distribution area, and duplicate posters are held here. The Multi-Institutions Disposition Authority (MIDA) 96/024, issued for poster-creating areas of government institutions, contains provisions for the disposition of multiple copies of posters. Available on the LAC Web site, this Authority will assist government institutions in controlling the volume and growth of the collection.

Separating Documentary Art Records by Type and Medium

When institutions possess a variety of documentary art materials, such as oil paintings, drawings, reproductions and collage work, separating them by type, i.e., originals or reproductions, will allow the most effective use of specialized storage areas or containers. To ensure that valued records are given optimal physical care and to maintain control over their use, it is advisable to separate the original works of art by medium and support: oil paintings; works on paper (such as drawings and watercolours); or collages, which require special storage because of their fragility. Within this grouping, it may also be advisable to separate the works by size if there is wide discrepancy among the items. Before separating materials for storage, items should be numbered so that users can locate the original, the corresponding reproduction and the related documentation.

Graphic representations in electronic format should contain metadata which will enable them to be stored, retrieved, or transferred into other electronic formats. Such graphic representations do not need to be separated from the relevant electronic textual or other media files before transfer to a records centre or to LAC.


The order in which documentary art records are physically stored can be based on any one of many criteria. The best control over a collection is achieved when each documentary art record is assigned a unique number that dictates the physical order in which the records are stored. That number will assist in locating the record within the classification system, as well as any related documentation. For many automated indexes and retrieval tools, item-level numbering of documentary art records is essential.

Chronological Numbers

In a chronological file, records are numbered in the order in which they are created or acquired. The ability to integrate new materials easily makes this a practical system for collections that are continually growing. Chronological files, however, require the maintenance of a master list in which the basic information about each image (i.e., source, date, subject) is logged beside its file number. Subject indexes and cross-references must also be created to enable retrieval of records by criteria other than the chronological number. The following is an example of a chronological number assigned to a poster:

Central Mortgage and Housing Corporation
United Nations Habitat Conference
The Urban Frontier (1976-1)

Mnemonic Numbers

A variation of the chronological system, mnemonic numbers reveal information about the documentary art record in addition to its location within the file. For example, the numeric prefix "92" could be assigned to a file number to tell users that the record was created in 1992. Incorporating dates into the numbering system is a useful practice, since it will also help the disposition process by automatically identifying older records. Mnemonic codes made up of numbers, letters or alphanumeric combinations may be used to indicate any kind of information about the record -- program, subject, geographic location format, source of the record or creator that is considered important. It is essential to keep coding simple; mnemonic codes should evolve from a real need to store documentary art records in a particular order. The example below shows a documentary art record with its mnemonic file number.

Collective Numbers

Since design work is often collated into groups, assigning a collective number to multiple records, in addition to the mnemonic number, can also be a useful practice. For example, a portfolio of documentary art records for a brochure could be assigned the collective number 91-566, which would indicate the design work was commissioned/done in 1991 and it was the 566th project of that year. Individual items could then be identified as 91-566-1, 91-566-2, 91-566-3, etc. Additional details about each item (e.g., accepted, rejected, colour considerations for printing, etc.) should also be recorded next to the collective number in an accompanying register.

Bar-Code Numbering

Bar-code numbering is another popular option especially for large collections of documentary art records. Although bar-code readers involve an extra expense, bar codes offer the additional advantage of doubling as security tags. With each documentary art record having its own distinct bar code, the records can be readily and unequivocally identified. The information associated with each bar code provides a more complete description of the object, its provenance, etc.


Documentary art records should be permanently marked with their file number to ensure correct identification. Using a pencil, preferably of 2B softness, number the items in the lower right-hand corner on the reverse side of an image (print, painting, poster, watercolour, etc.) or in a location where the inscription will not harm or damage the documentary art record. If an item has been matted, the number may be put on the mat or, in the case of an oil painting, on the back of the stretcher or frame. Always label records lightly; excessive pressure or a sharp point on the pencil will leave a permanent imprint on the record's surface. For three-dimensional objects such as sculptures or mock-ups, it is preferable to attach to the item a small tag with the necessary information.


Preparing a description which involves noting standardized pieces of information about the content of a record, is a valuable activity that enhances the usability and future research value of the record. Within government departments and agencies, every effort should be made to ensure that all records are given at least a basic description by their creators or by the employees most familiar with their contents. Understandably, not all records require the same degree of description. The nature of the records, user needs, and available time and resources must be considered in determining the level of description. It may be that certain items, because of their intrinsic value or for legal purposes (e.g., only published graphic design work or oil paintings), will be described at the item level while others will rely on a collective description to provide the necessary context. Remember that undescribed documentary art records may, over time, lose the context of their purpose, creation and use. This is especially true if there is no related documentation or if there is no cross-reference to related documentation. As a result, documentary art records might have little or no value to the institution or to future researchers.

Descriptive Standards and Practices

Custodians in government institutions may find it useful to consult the various standards, guidelines and methods that have been developed by archives and libraries for the description of documentary art materials. In Canada, the Canadian Council of Archives has published the Rules for Archival Description (RAD). Chapter 4 of RAD covers the description of graphic materials and provides the following examples:

Rule 4.5B1, under "Extent of descriptive unit:"

Record the extent of the unit being described by giving
the number of physical units...

1 painting
200 photographs

Rule 4.5C3, "Multiple techniques, processes, etc.:"

When multiple techniques, processes, etc., are identified,
name each, with the predominant technique, process, etc.,
if any, named first...

1 collage: photographs, newspaper clippings, and paint
1 drawing: pen and brown ink over pencil,
with touches of watercolour

Also useful are Rule 4.8B10, "Dates of creation including distribution publication etc." and Rule 4.8B31, "Exhibition publication and other uses." Another helpful standard is the ISBD(NBM) : International Standard Bibliographic Description for Non-Book Materials.

Item-Level Description

In addition to a file number, a descriptive caption for individual documentary art records ensures accurate identification of records at the item level. This caption reveals the content and context of the image by supplying basic information such as date, location subject (event, names of people, program, activity), creator and copyright. A good caption answers these questions:

  • Who created the record? Was it created internally, contracted out, commissioned?
  • When was it created?
  • Why was it created? For what program?

Government institutions should adopt a consistent format for their item-level captions. Do not try to attach captions to records or write too many details on the back or on filing enclosures; store this descriptive information separately in a caption sheet, index or file.

Collective-Level Description

Groups of documentary art records related by subject or program activity are often described at the collective level. The key information to be recorded includes file number ranges, date range, creator, copyright, location(s) and subject(s). Collective-level descriptions are useful for compiling a comprehensive inventory of the institution's holdings.

Related Documentation

It is also important to record the links that exist between documentary art records and its related paper documentation. When the documentary art record and the related documentation paper files are stored separately, label all documentary art enclosures with the number of the textual documentation file that will provide context. In addition all information related to the creator, such as contracts indicating intellectual ownership and copyright of the material, is of paramount importance and should be maintained on the related documentation files.

Subject Files and Indexes

Documentary art records, like paper records, can be classified by their principal subject in order to group related records, either physically or intellectually. When documentary art records are closely linked to particular programs or projects in an institution it may be possible to adapt the existing classification system for textual records in order to include them. For example, posters created for specific campaigns can be classified by year and by campaign, such as those developed to identify changes to Canada's tax program. Medallic awards can be linked to a major initiative such as the Canada 125 medals. Keeping related material together will ease retrieval and reference for users who want to compare several documentary art records belonging to a specific project.

A subject index serves the same function by intellectually grouping related documentary art records in a collection that is numerically arranged. With a subject index, users gain access to a collection by looking up the file numbers listed under the desired subject heading.

Assigning a subject heading to visuals records can be more difficult than choosing one for textual records, particularly when the records are multi-purpose and so diverse in subject matter that conventional subject headings for paper records are not relevant. This difficulty usually arises in the case of publicity or educational collections. The access needs of the users are of primary concern and subject headings specifically designed for visual materials should be used. The Library of Congress Thesaurus for Graphic Materials lists subject headings that can be easily tailored to the unique characteristics of a particular collection. Avoid creating overly detailed subject headings. Classification systems must be flexible enough to allow retrieval from a variety of avenues, such as subject, title or file number.

For each documentary art record in a subject file, it is also important to include cross-references to related documentation which may be contained in other filing systems within the institution. In this manner, the user will be able to obtain a more complete history or perspective of the documentary art record. Cross-referencing will also be important when establishing retention periods for documentary art records and for eventually disposing of the records.

Retrieval Systems

With an effective retrieval system, records can be located quickly with minimum handling of fragile materials. Retrieval mechanisms consist of some kind of finding aid or index that provides intellectual access to records. The needs of the users should dictate what kinds of retrieval mechanisms are created. Retrieval mechanisms take many forms, including card indexes, caption sheets and automated software.

Card Index

A card index is a manual retrieval system that works relatively well for small collections of documentary art records. The file number and descriptive information are recorded on a standard-sized card (75 mm x 125 mm), which is then placed in a master file, organized by number or subject. Larger cards (125 mm x 200 mm) can also be used to accommodate a small photographic copy (e.g., 100 mm x 125 mm) of the documentary art item.

Caption Sheets

Caption sheets allow users to scan descriptive information about the collection in a portable binder. Since caption entries are generally listed chronologically, caption sheets are best suited to smaller collections.

Automated Retrieval

Automated retrieval systems are a practical option that has replaced card indexes for medium- and large-sized collections of documentary art records. Faster and more flexible than manual indexes, computerized indexes can provide access from a variety of points, depending on the number of information fields that can be searched. With commercial database software or a specifically designed software package, most collections of documentary art records can be easily handled on a personal computer or mainframe.

Ask the computer specialists in your institution how a visual database can be integrated with the other information systems currently in use, such as a departmental records or document management system.

Videotape, Videodisc and Digital Imaging

In recent years, sophisticated technologies such as videotape, videodisc and digital imaging have been developed and adopted by a number of large archival repositories and government institutions. Scanning or recording documentary art records, particularly works of art on paper, paintings and posters, allows government institutions to protect original documentary art records from excessive handling. Scanning or recording also offer many advantages for the users, including quick visual access to a collection enhanced presentation on monitors and, in some cases, the ability to manipulate the electronic image.

Some types of documentary art records such as lapel pins, postcards, buttons or images on fragile supports are in danger of damage or accidental loss through repeated handling. To prevent such problems, collections could include multiple examples of scanned images in different media; thereby reducing the amount of time required to view or study the collection. For example, LAC maintains a large collection of cartoons and caricatures on videodisc, which allows for the quick retrieval of images of particular subjects or artists for exhibition or research purposes. In this way, the original records are protected from deterioration or accidental damage.

Some departments are also turning to in-house desktop publishing and are enhancing their products by importing digitized or scanned images of their documentary art records into the textual portion of the product. Managers or custodians of large and frequently used collections of documentary art records might consider having their records scanned or digitally imaged by one of these advanced systems. For collections that constantly need updating or are rarely used, however, the expense would likely not be warranted.

III Preservation of Documentary Art Records

The lifespan of a documentary art record is determined by many factors, such as how it is handled and where it is displayed or stored. A number of hazards related to environment, storage, handling and the materials or components of documentary art records can hasten their deterioration. Ultraviolet light, finger marks, acidic papers, newsprint, some adhesives and inks, dust, dirt, chlorinated plastics, extreme fluctuations in temperature and humidity, and atmospheric pollutants may all contribute to the degradation of the record, diminishing over time its informational and artefactual value.

Examine the documentary art materials in your institution to determine if any item could be described as:

  • faded or discoloured
  • curled or rolled
  • stapled, paper-clipped or glued
  • scratched, creased, torn or otherwise mutilated
  • fingerprinted, stained, dirty, water-damaged or corroded
  • mouldy or infested by insects.

These are typical signs of damage and deterioration in art collections. The most effective way to counteract damage to documentary art records is prevention. Establishing safe handling practices and adequate storage conditions will not only prolong the useful life of documentary art records but will ensure that records of historical and archival value survive beyond their transfer to LAC.

Handling Guidelines

Handling documentary art records, although necessary, can be a major cause of damage. In the course of daily operations in government departments and agencies, documentary art records can be received, processed, filed, retrieved, photocopied, circulated or sent out, displayed or projected, returned and refiled. Since the risk of physical mutilation increases with the frequency of handling, original and valued materials should be protected from excessive handling. Where possible, reproductions should be used for reference purposes.

Processing officers and users should also be informed of the following safe handling practices which are applicable to all types of documentary art records:

  • Prohibit food, beverages and smoking in areas where documentary art records (or any other records) are handled and stored.

    This rule should be enforced where any government record is displayed, stored or handled. Spilled drinks and crumbs will not only damage the materials themselves but may also attract insects and rodents. Cigarette smoke can also damage certain materials. (Smoking is now prohibited in all federal buildings.)
  • Minimize exposure to light.

    The cumulative effects of light can lead to the fading and staining of some documentary art records, particularly colour materials such as watercolours or pastels. When documentary art records are to be displayed in offices and exhibitions, the recommended practice is to keep the original in storage and display only a copy. All documentary art records that are displayed for extended periods should be protected from direct sunlight to avoid drying, fading, cracking or tarnishing. If the exhibition of light-sensitive and original prints is necessary, keep light levels at 50 lux and mount prints according to conservation standards using safe adhesives and acid-free mounts, mats and frames.
  • Never write on the front of a documentary art record.

    It is often necessary to identify documentary art records with a caption or annotation. The best practice is to note this descriptive information in a finding aid, in an index or on a piece of paper that will not be stored in direct contact with the documentary art record. The use of self-sticking, coloured notes on documentary art records -- a common office practice is to be strictly avoided, because the glue can trigger an adverse reaction with the record's medium. Never write on a documentary art record, particularly on the front of a paper record, or use the record as a writing surface. If notes are required, they should be made on the filing enclosure, on the back of the paper record along the border with a soft lead pencil (HB or softer) or in an inconspicuous place on the back of other types of documentary art records. Adhesive labels, paper clips, rubber stamps, inks and felt-tip pens should never be used on documentary art records because they contain active chemical compounds that may leach through paper, canvas or fabric, or permanently stain other materials and eventually damage the image.
  • Package documentary art records securely for mailing and transport.

    When documentary art records must be sent in the mail or transported any distance, be sure they are encased in a protective enclosure. For images on paper or canvas, place them on flat surfaces or stabilizers and between two rigid pieces of cardboard that are one centimetre or a half-inch larger than the record on all sides. Use a padded mailing envelope or wrap all enclosures well in bubble pack. Ensure that all packages are sealed. Multiple copies of records (e.g., posters) are best packaged in a strong cardboard box in which extra space is filled with bubble pack or crumpled paper to prevent slipping. Always indicate on the outside of the package that it contains artwork to alert mail carriers or couriers. Cylindrical mailing tubes are not recommended for paper documentary art records or ephemera.
  • Prevent damage to documentary art records during photocopying.

    While exposure to the short bursts of light from a photocopier will not adversely affect most documentary art records, they can nevertheless be damaged during the copying process. Handle documentary art records carefully with white cotton gloves and make sure the copier platen is clean. The best practice when photocopying is to keep the records in transparent enclosures to prevent contamination from dirt and fingerprints. If the demand for copies of a particular item is high, it is a good idea to make one photocopy to use as the "master" when further copies are required.

For the optimum preservation of documentary art records which may be of historical importance to the institution these handling practices should be followed:

  • Always handle documentary art records with both hands to ensure the safety of the record.
  • Wear white cotton gloves when handling original documentary art records.
  • Only one original should be handled at a time. If originals are kept in file jackets, handle only one file jacket at a time. Each documentary art record should be treated individually and should be handled by moving it carefully with both hands.
  • Never flip paper documentary art records like magazine or newspaper pages.
  • Documentary art adequate working space for safe examination.
  • Any loose protective tissue paper lying on top of a documentary art record should be removed by lifting it from the record, not by dragging it across the record's surface.
  • When handling art, philatelic or photographic documentary art records, always remember to bring the support to the record, not the record to the support. For example, when moving a large poster, bring a rigid support to the poster, place the poster on the rigid support, and then move it.
  • To remove a documentary art record from a protective envelope, press the envelope along two sides to open it, and then gently pull the record out of the open end.
  • When consulting originals and taking notes, researchers must use only 2B pencils.
  • Before examining any original documentary art record, users should remove any jewellery, identification cards, etc., which may come in contact with the original.


  • Always leave oil paintings hanging in place unless it is absolutely necessary to move them.
  • If oil paintings have to be moved from their original hanging location wrap them carefully in bubble pack and stand them in an upright position on cushioned supports. Remove any light fixture or hanging hardware attached to the frame.
  • Do not unframe oil paintings.
  • Keep oil paintings out of direct sunlight and high traffic areas, and place them in a secure area. Never touch the surface of an oil painting.
  • Do not stack or lean oil paintings on top of one another.
  • Do not lean anything against an oil painting.

Works of Art on Paper

  • No attempt should be made to lift or remove adhered stamps or paper labels affixed to originals.
  • Viewing apparatus such as page-turners, magnifying glasses, stamp tongs, table easels, etc., should be available.
  • Small art records, whether matted or unmatted, should be removed from their storage boxes one at a time, using both hands. Place the records flat on the table, but not on top of another object or balanced on the storage box. The records should always be placed face up on a work surface, not face down. If the verso of a matted record needs to be seen to verify an inscription, etc., the record should be manipulated with both hands.
  • To move a matted record, hold the mats with the palms of your hands, resting the board lightly on your fingertips. Try to avoid placing your thumbs on the fronts of the mats.
  • To view a matted work, lift the top hinged portion of the mat and place the mat back onto the table. Remove the loose tissue paper lying on the original.
  • When the examination is completed, put the protective tissue back into place and return the mat's upper lid to its original position. Following this, place the work onto the other side of its storage box, face up, before taking out the next work. When an examination of the contents of the box is complete, all works should be returned to it, piled neatly and in the original order.

Small Unmatted Works Housed in Protective Sleeves or Envelopes

  • Handle by holding a side edge of the protective sleeve or envelope with one hand and slide the other free hand underneath it for support. Place the record and its sleeve on a flat surface. To examine the record, open up the sleeve completely, ensuring that its edges do not hang over the consultation table's edges. If the verso of the record needs to be examined, close the protective sleeve, pick up the sleeve as directed above and turn the record over using the sleeve to support the record.
  • When the examination is finished, return the record to its storage box, face up, in the same order as it was removed.

Large Matted and Unmatted Records

  • Always use two hands when handling large matted records or large records housed in protective sleeves. Grasp the mat or sleeve at the centre of both of the longer sides and slowly lift the work, allowing it to relax to its own tension. Place the record flat upon the consultation table.
  • To examine a large art or philatelic record, follow the same handling procedures as those given above for consulting small matted or unmatted records, depending upon the situation.

Bound Records: Sketchbooks, Albums, Scrapbooks and Journals

  • Remove the volume from its container using both hands to support it completely. Lay it flat upon a table surface, which has been covered with either felt or bubble pack.
  • If the volume does not open flat, provide a support to take the strain off the binding as the pages are turned. Do not strain the binding of a volume by trying to press the pages flat.
  • Use a page turner to turn the pages.
  • Pages should never be flipped back and forth.
  • Many sketchbooks, etc., are bound with interleaving tissue. Care must be taken not to crease or fold the tissue paper when a page is turned. Often the interleaving tissue paper is loose, and close attention must be taken to carefully replace it in the gutter margin of the volume and ensure that it is lined up properly with the edges of the volume's pages.
  • When finished, close the volume slowly, using both hands, and place it back in its container.


The long-term survival of documentary art records depends to a large extent upon storage conditions. When selecting an appropriate storage system for these records, information managers and custodians should consider the needs of their users, the growth rate of the collection departmental resources and the principles of archival preservation. The long-term storage needs of dormant collections should be addressed when considering retention and disposition requirements.


A number of standards and guidelines have been published by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) and the Canadian Conservation Institute (CCI). In the absence of formal Canadian standards on this subject, the ISO and ANSI standards, along with the CCI guidelines, can provide government information managers and documentary art custodians with useful information on the storage of documentary art records. As the umbrella organization for many different international associations of conservators, the International Institute of Conservation -- Canada Group (IIC-CG) can also provide assistance. As well, LAC provides advice and assistance for the care and storage of documentary art records. The following storage recommendations are based upon the above standards and guidelines which have been endorsed by LAC.

  • Keep all related material together, identified by record block or subject file number on the outside of the container.
  • Ensure that the storage areas are environmentally stable; they should be neither too humid nor too hot, and relative humidity levels should be kept fairly constant. Rapid changes in heat and humidity can damage works of art. In addition stored documentary art records should be kept away from sources of water, such as pipes, water fountains and washrooms.


  • Keep posters flat in drawers, and do not fold or roll them.
  • Remove all paper clips, rubber bands and staples from the records.
  • Avoid lamination of posters as this causes storage problems later in the life cycle of the record when it is transferred to LAC.

Works of Art on Paper

  • Drawings should be laid flat and, if framed, they should be unframed. Charcoal or pastel drawings should remain framed. Shield drawings from other materials by sleeving them in acid-free paper, and then acid-free cardboard. If pastels are encapsulated in plastic or some form of covering, leave them in their enclosures as further friction may cause damage. As a minimum requirement, they should be kept segregated with sheets of acid-free paper between the art records.
  • For drawings or prints, remove all glass frames. If the records are to be stored indefinitely under glass, use masking tape to tape an "X" across the surface of the glass to minimize damage if the glass breaks. A piece of broken glass can tear or rip the drawing or print.

Large Matted and Unmatted Records

  • Large matted or unmatted art and philatelic records are typically housed in protective sleeves rather than in storage boxes. Because of the large size and flexible nature of these records, whether matted or not, and of their sleeves, special care must be taken to safely move both. Two people may be needed to move the records.

Heraldic Devices, Seals, Medals, Ephemera

  • Store material in boxes appropriate to the size of the object to avoid shifting. Ensure that fragile items are wrapped in bubble pack or acid-free tissue paper. Large items such as wooden coats of arms should be dealt with in a similar fashion to oil paintings, and treated accordingly.
  • Ephemera should be kept separately in labelled envelopes or file folders to ensure that the items do not rub against one another.


The ideal environment for the storage of documentary art records is cool and dry. Conditions in government institutions and offices vary greatly and not many will have state-of-the-art storage vaults. Nevertheless, the specifications for the adequate, medium-term storage of documentary art records can be easily met by most institutions. In selecting the storage site, avoid areas such as basements where humidity can be a problem. Where possible, keep documentary art records in a well-insulated room, away from exterior walls, water pipes, sprinklers or washrooms. If there are outside windows, they should be shaded to reduce exposure to sunlight. Incandescent or UV-filtered lighting should be used in the storage areas. Air filters, along with regular housekeeping and maintenance, can reduce the amount of dust and airborne impurities in the storage area. Care must be taken to ensure that records are stored away from potential sources of exhaust or chemical fumes. Similarly, do not store records in a room that has been freshly painted with an oil-based paint; wait about six weeks for paint fumes to dissipate, or use a latex or acrylic paint.

Temperature and Relative Humidity

High temperatures and relative humidity levels can have negative effects on documentary art records. A hot and damp environment can encourage the growth of mould spores and the presence of insects, as well as accelerate deterioration or corrosion. Excessively dry conditions are equally harmful because they can cause certain documentary art records to become brittle or curl. It is important to ensure stable temperature and relative humidity levels over the life of the documentary art record.

If temperature and humidity in the storage area cannot be controlled, it is generally recommended that a constant temperature in the range of 15°C to 20°C be maintained, with fluctuations of less than 4°C. An acceptable level of relative humidity is between 30% and 60%, but it is preferable to keep it below 40%. If the collection is composed of wood or textiles, or contains various types of materials (wood, paper, metal, textiles), it is recommended that conservation experts be consulted for detailed handling instructions on the temperature and relative humidity levels.

Check the humidity and temperature levels in the storage area periodically. A small air-conditioner, dehumidifier or humidifier, as the case may be, can help to regulate conditions in an enclosed room. Since fluctuations can be harmful, the stability of conditions is more important than the actual levels of temperature and relative humidity. A hygrothermograph or sling psychrometer can be used to monitor relative humidity daily.

Disaster Preparedness

Since floods, fires, earthquakes and other misfortunes happen, a written contingency plan should be in place to deal with the effects of unforeseen disasters. This plan should outline procedures to follow in an emergency, list sources of supplies and equipment for recovery operations, name persons with recovery expertise and list materials to be recovered, with priority given to vulnerable materials. These procedures should be made available to all employees.


Because of their diverse composition documentary art records will often require different salvage procedures from textual records. Institutions requiring further information on disaster preparedness and recovery can contact the Disaster Control Organization of LAC and the Canadian Conservation Institute. The Response Action Team of LAC can also assist in the recovery and salvage of documentary art records.

Essential Records

Documentary art records may constitute part of the essential records of a government institution. An Essential Records Program is designed to ensure the identification and preservation of information that will allow for the continued availability of essential services, programs and operations. The Essential Records Program allows government institutions to prepare for recovery from contingencies, defined as any event that may interrupt an operation or affect service or program delivery.1

Treasury Board Secretariat requires government institutions to take the following steps:

  • identify and protect their essential records
  • store essential records in a secure site administered by LAC.

For further information on the policy requirements, consult Protecting Essential Records published jointly by Emergency Preparedness Canada and LAC.

1Business Resumption Planning: Technical Standards, Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat. Ottawa: 1992.

IV Retention and Disposition

The organized retention and disposition of government information help institutions make the most efficient use of space and equipment, and ensure that worthless records are destroyed, while records of enduring value are preserved. An organized program of this type is especially important for documentary art records which are not usually perceived as government records by many employees.

Retention Periods for Documentary Art Records

Retention periods for documentary art collections will depend upon their operational and legal value to your institution. Keeping unnecessary records will create a burden on resources, could impede the retrieval of essential information and also delay researcher services, thus going against the government's stated priority of service to the public. For example, the usefulness of documentary art records such as posters, used for publicity or information purposes, changes over time, and individual posters within a collection may have a short retention period relative to their use.

Sketches made by geologists in their field notebooks referring to the location of mineral deposits, for instance, may constitute documentary art records. As such, the sketches will have legal value because they can be used to determine the location of mining claims and to provide evidential value in boundary or property disputes.

Documentary art records which have an enduring archival or historical value beyond their operational or legal value to an institution generally document important programs, actions and decisions, or contain unique information or evidence about the government and Canadians.

Retention periods will vary according to the nature of the collection or the records. Retention periods for documentary art records might not be the same as those for the related files or reports. Paper-based information for example, may also exist in automated form, while documentary art records are often the sole sources of unique visual information. In co-operation with the records' creators, information management staff in each institution can set reasonable retention periods for their documentary art records. For guidance on the legal value of documentary art records, consult the legal counsel in your institution.

The following points should be considered when determining records schedules for documentary art records:

  • Ensure that all documentary art records are organized under a comprehensive classification system to facilitate reference and retrieval. A good inventory of documentary art records will also help identify and locate records of enduring value.
  • Set retention periods for all documentary art records as early as possible in the information life cycle and preferably at the same time as other records related to a particular program, function or activity of a government institution.

Dormant Records

A documentary art record becomes dormant when the frequency of reference no longer warrants it being kept in expensive office space. For example, dormant documentary art records may relate to a specific project or case that has been concluded. When documentary art records become dormant, they can be moved out of operational areas to a storage location in-house or to an off-site records centre. Keep in mind that documentary art requires special conditions for survival in dormant storage. LAC provides off-site storage facilities for government records through a national network of Federal Records Centres (FRC), but not all Centres are equipped to store documentary art. For more information about storing documentary art in these facilities, please contact the FRC in your region. (See Appendix C for phone numbers.)


Government institutions may dispose of records when they are no longer needed. The disposition of records of government institutions and ministerial records is guided by the provisions of the Library and Archives of Canada Act (2004). This Act requires that government institutions:

  • obtain the approval of the Librarian and Archivist of Canada before destroying or disposing of their records, and
  • transfer records of archival and historical importance to LAC.

Through its Records Disposition Program, LAC co-ordinates these two activities with all government institutions that come under the Library and Archives of Canada Act (2004). Information and records management staff in each government institution should make sure that their institution's documentary art records are linked to specific programs and are included in the institution's Records Disposition Submissions to LAC. These submissions target the records of specific programs, which may be disposed of at the end of the records' life cycle if the records have no historical or archival value, and identify those records which do have historical or archival value and must be transferred to LAC. In this way, government information in all media, related by program, function or activity can be disposed of in an integrated manner.

When To Dispose of Documentary Art Records?

Once the retention period has expired and there is no longer any legal or operational need to keep documentary art records, they can be disposed of according to an approved Records Disposition Authority (RDA). The RDA is a document signed by the Librarian and Archivist of Canada granting approval for an institution to destroy records, alienate records (transfer to another institution), or transfer records with archival or historical value to LAC. The records are usually those detailed in the Records Disposition Submission originally tendered by the institution to LAC.

LAC has also preauthorized the destruction of certain kinds of records without enduring value, which are common to all government institutions, and has issued MIDAs to cover these records. The MIDAs are applicable to the following three categories of records:

  • Multiple copies

    Where an image has been duplicated, such as a poster, it is not necessary to retain more than two identical copies in government collections. Additional copies of a poster can be distributed or disseminated to the general public, or destroyed once their usefulness in the institution has expired. The exception to this rule occurs when annotations have been added to the copy, thereby making it a new record. The MIDA No. 96/024 issued for Poster-Creating Areas of Government Institutions should be consulted.
  • Transitory documentary art records

    When documentary art records are required only for a limited time to ensure the completion of a routine action or the preparation of a subsequent record, they can be disposed of under the generic Authority for the Destruction of Transitory Records. Examples of transitory documentary art records may include camera-ready artwork, such as negatives used to create posters or pamphlets.
  • Electronic imaging and source documentary art records

    When documentary art records have been scanned into an electronic imaging system, the source records may be destroyed unless they have an intrinsic value based on unusual physical characteristics or age. Source records may also be destroyed if the institution intends to rely on the electronic images as the official or corporate "business record." Records having intrinsic value may include original artwork or documents with corporate seals affixed. Source records may include correspondence, books, maps, pictorial or graphic work, etc. The MIDA No. 96/023 issued to Government Institutions for Records Related to Electronic Imaging Systems is applicable in these instances.

Appendix A -- Glossary

This glossary contains terms that relate to documentary art records and their management. The French equivalent is in parentheses.

active records (documents actifs) Records that are maintained in proximity to operational areas because of frequent use.

alkaline (alcalin) Having a pH value greater than 7.

album (album) Any bound book where images are stored, as in a photo album or a scrapbook.

artwork (illustrations) A generic term used to designate camera-ready illustration originals, i.e., photographs, drawings, paintings, hand lettering, etc., for publishing. Artwork usually consists of negative images ready to be printed. Because artwork is not generally considered to be of archival value, it can be retained as required for future printing, then disposed of.

brittleness (friabilité) See embrittlement.

burning (brûlure) The combustion or decomposition of materials under exposure to extreme heat, intense light, or prolonged dryness and heat.

caption (légende) An explanatory statement that describes the content and context of an individual record. The caption can be attached to the record or inscribed onto its surface, recto or verso.

caption sheet (feuille de légendes) A list of captions.

chip (éclat) Material that has broken away from the surface of an image or frame as a result of a blow. See also flaking and paint loss.

collage (collage) A record, often consisting of more than one medium, put together by the cut-and-paste method.

collection (collection) An accumulation of documents of any provenance brought together on the basis of some common characteristic (such as creator, subject, language, medium, documentary form or means of acquisition).

condition (état) The physical state of a record, as in excellent, good, fair, poor, etc.

contextual files (dossiers contextuels) Files corresponding to visual records in the record-creating areas which help identify and provide contextual information about the creation production and distribution process of such records.

copy (reproduction) A product of any stage in the second generation of a documentary art record.

creator (créateur) The departmental employee or contractor (e.g., designer) who physically created the record.

date of creation (date de création) The day, month and year the record was created.

dent (enfoncement, dépression) A concave depression in the surface of a work caused by a blow or the pressure of another object placed against it.

dimensions (dimensions) The measurements of a record -- height, followed by width, followed by depth if framed. Example: framed portrait of John A. Macdonald, 56.6 cm x 34.4 cm x 3.5 cm.

discolouration (altération de la couleur) Changes to the colour of a record due to fading or darkening.

disposition (disposition) The final stage in the information life cycle during which records are either (a) transferred to LAC for preservation, (b) alienated from the Government of Canada or (c) destroyed.

dormant records (documents inactifs) Records that are infrequently used and can be stored off site.

drawing (dessin) Work on paper or similar non-rigid support, done in pencil, pen and ink(s), charcoal, coloured pencils, crayons, markers, chalks or oil.

embrittlement (friabilité) The decline in the humidity and suppleness of an object which often leads to damage such as flaking.

enduring value (valeur permanente) The archival or historical merit of a record, as determined by LAC, that warrants its permanent retention.

essential records (documents essentiels) Records vital to the conduct of government in the event of an emergency or natural disaster.

file number (numéro de dossier) A number assigned to an individual documentary art record to indicate its placement in a classification system.

flaking (écaillage) The breakdown of the painting structure characterized by the paint losing bond and becoming detached. Voids left in the surface of a work or frame due to surface loss.
See also chip.

folio (feuillet) A page in a sketchbook or album.

foxing (rousseur) Mould growths in paper often manifesting as dull rusty patches that discolour; the chemical action of mould on the colourless iron salts present in most papers.

hygrothermograph (hygrothermographe) An instrument used to measure and plot an ongoing record of changes in temperature and relative humidity.

inscription (inscription) Notations on the recto or verso of a record, such as dates, signatures, initials.

insect invasion (infestation par les insectes) Signs of the work of insects include tunnels, webs and honeycombs in wood, as well as open gaps and holes in paper.

lux (lux) A metric unit for measuring illumination.

loss (perte) The complete loss of a portion of the support or surface of the record. Missing corners, edges or holes.

medium (technique) The physical materials used in a process to create a record, e.g., pastel, pencil, watercolour, oil, all forms of printing, felt pen and crayons, etc.

mould (moisissure) A superficial, often woolly, growth produced on various forms of an organic matter especially when damp or decaying and on living organisms such as a fungus that produces moulds. The growth of mould is stimulated by high humidity. Mould weakens the support by feeding off the fibres. Visible mould appears as a coloured furry and web-like matter (foxing) on the surface, while invisible mould is characterized by a musty odour. Also known as mildew or foxing. Be aware of health hazards. Immediately seal the mouldy item in plastic and consult an art custodian at LAC.

offsetting(maculage) The transfer of the reverse image of a picture to another surface due to friction plus static electricity. Especially noticeable in mounts, sketchbooks and works of art framed under glass.

original (original) A product of any stage in the first generation of the documentary art record.

paint loss (chute de matière) A fragment missing from the surface of a painting.

painting (peinture) An image created with brush and oil, acrylic or tempera paint on a rigid support such as stretched canvas or board. Can be framed or unframed.

print (estampe, gravure et imprimé) An image usually mechanically transferred to paper using various printing techniques such as engraving, etching, linocut, woodcut, lithography, offset, silkscreen, etc.

record (document) means any documentary material other than a publication regardless of medium or form (Library and Archives of Canada Act, 2004)

records disposition submission (demande d'autorisation de disposer des documents) A proposal from a government institution (completed in collaboration with LAC officials) requesting approval from the Librarian and Archivist of Canada for the disposition of records.

records retention and disposition schedule (calendrier de conservation et d'élimination des documents) A timetable outlining the life cycle of a record.

recto/verso (recto/verso) The distinction made between the front and back of a sheet of paper  --  recto means front, verso means back.

relative humidity (RH) (humidity relative [HR]) The ratio of the amount of water vapour in the air to the maximum possible at that temperature.

reproduction (reproduction) a) A mechanical or photomechanical printing process such as offset lithography. Often mass reproduced such as magazines, books, posters; b) the object so reproduced.

retention period (délai de conservation) The period of time that must elapse before a record may be disposed of. The length of the retention period reflects the value of the record.

sketchbook (carnet de croquis) Any bound book used for a grouping of drawings, usually by the same creator. Often used on field trips, for preliminary sketching.

soiled (souillé) A general term describing the condition of an object that has been dirtied or soiled by dust, grime, fingerprints, spatters, stains, etc.

subject file (dossier-matière) A collection of records physically arranged under assigned subject headings.

subject index (index-matières) A list of files arranged under principal subject headings.

support (support) Any physical structure on which a work is executed such as canvas, paper, wood panel, commercial board, cardboard, newsprint, acetate, textile, etc.

tear (déchirure) A rent through the support with damage to the medium.

ultraviolet light (UV) (rayonnement ultraviolet [UV]) Invisible light at the violet end of the light spectrum.

verso/recto (verso/recto) The distinction made between the front and back of a sheet of paper  --  recto means front, verso means back.

warping (gondolage) Distortion of the support of a work caused by uneven shrinkage or expansion.

watercolour (aquarelle) An image at least 75% of which is painted with brush and watercolour paints or coloured washes, usually on paper.

Appendix B -- Bibliography

Barton John P., and Johanna Wellheiser, editors, An Ounce of Prevention: A Handbook on Disaster Contingency Planning for Archives, Libraries and Records Centres. Toronto: Toronto Area Archivists Group Education Foundation 1985.

Canadian Conservation Institute. Canadian Conservation Institute Notes. Ottawa: Canadian Conservation Institute, various dates.

Canadian Council of Archives. Basic Conservation of Archival Materials: A Guide. Ottawa: Canadian Council of Archives, 1990.

Canadian Council of Archives. Bureau of Canadian Archivists. Planning Committee on Descriptive Standards. Rules for Archival Description. Ottawa 1995-2000.

Clapp, Anne F. Curatorial Care of Works of Art on Paper. Basic Procedures for Paper Conservation. New York: Intermuseum Conservation Association Nick Lyons Books, 1987. ISBN 0-941130-31-2.

Kulka, Edward, Archival Enclosures. Ottawa: Canadian Council of Archives, 1995.

Lull, William P., with the assistance of Paul N. Banks. Conservation Environment Guidelines for Libraries and Archives. Ottawa: Canadian Council of Archives, 1995.

Parker, Elisabeth Betz, and Helena Zinkham, comp. and ed. Descriptive Terms for Graphic Materials: Genre and Physical Characteristic Headings. Washington D.C.: Library of Congress, 1986.

Pederson Anne, ed. Keeping Archives. Sydney: Australian Society of Archivists Inc., 1987. An interesting overall approach with no specific references to documentary art, cartographic and architectural archives.

Peterson Toni, dir. Art and Architecture Thesaurus. New York: Oxford University Press on behalf of the J. Paul Getty Trust, 1990.

Thompson John. Manual of Curatorship: A Guide to Museum Practice. London: Butterworths, 1984. This book is primarily aimed at a museum audience, but it includes a large section on collections management, including chapters on conservation and storage of prints, drawings, watercolours and easel paintings.

Appendix C -- Sources of Additional Information

Library and Archives Canada
LAC offers a variety of services, courses, advice and information to government institutions on the management of their records. Please direct your inquiries to:

Recordkeeping Liaison Centre
Government Records Branch
Library and Archives Canada
550 de la Cité Boulevard
Gatineau, QC K1A 0N4
Telephone: 819-934-7519 or 1-866-578-7777 (Toll free in Canada and the US)
Fax: 819-934-7534

Federal Records Centres (FRCs) are storage facilities for dormant government records in most media. Contact your regional FRC for further information on services.




Québec City

Canadian Conservation Institute
Advice on the proper care, handling and storage of documentary art records, as well as other archival media, is also available from:

Canadian Conservation Institute
Canadian Heritage
1030 Innes Road
Ottawa, ON  K1A 0C8
Telephone: 613-998-3721
Fax: 613-998-4721

Web Sites

The following Web sites can provide useful information related to the management of documentary art records. Each site also offers links to other national and international sites such as conservation sites, archival resources, etc. Information on publications available from the different institutions is often included.

Association of Canadian Archivists

Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library, Columbia University, New York
This Web site provides a search engine and contains links to subject-oriented guides, collections and related Internet resources such as "Internet Compilations for Art, Architecture and Archaeology."

Canadian Archival Resources on the Internet
The purpose of this site is to provide a comprehensive list of links to Canadian archives and associated resources on the Internet. These include links to individual repositories, multi-repository databases, archival listservs, archival associations, educational opportunities and other related sites. Links are generally limited to archival repositories, but museums and library special collections departments have been included when they contain reference to non-published materials.

Canadian Council of Archives

Canadian Heritage Information Network (CHIN)

Conservation OnLine (CoOL)
CoOL, a project of the Preservation Department of Stanford University Libraries, is a full-text library of conservation information covering a wide spectrum of topics of interest to those involved with the conservation of library, archives and museum materials.

National Archives and Records Administration United States of America
This Web site contains links to various types of information including professional services such as records management, preservation archival management, Internet resources, etc.

Library and Archives Canada

Northeast Document Conservation Center

The Society of American Archivists
The Society is the publisher of a series of excellent books on archives.

Yale University Library -- Art and Architecture

Appendix D -- List of Suppliers

Products for the preservation storage, filing and display of documentary art records can be purchased from a number of Canadian sources. The following list of vendors is provided for information only and is not an endorsement of any product or merchant by LAC or the Government of Canada.

Archival Conservation Resources Ltd.
P.O. Box 61
Cemetery Road
Norway Bay, (QC)  J0X 1G0

109 Roy Boulevard
Braneida Industrial Park
Brantford, ON  N3T 5N3

Capital Box of Ottawa Ltd.
1475 Star Top Road
Ottawa, ON  K1B 3W5
Telephone: 613-746-8171
Fax: 613-746-2430

Carr McLean
461 Horner Avenue
Etobicoke, ON  M8W 4X2

Envimaco International Inc.
Environmental Archive Company
2200 Victoria Street
Lachine, (QC)   H8S 1Z3

Instachange Displays Limited
230 Edward
Aurora, ON  L4G 3S8

Lighthouse Publications
75 North Lake Road
Oakridge, ON  L4E 3G4

Merkley Supply Ltd.
100 Bayview Road
Ottawa, ON  K1Y 4L6

Opus Binding Limited
15 Capella Court
Ottawa, ON  K2E 7X1

Pilon Office Products
1001 West Autoroute 440
Suite 202
Laval, (QC)  H7L 5P6

Smith Induspac Ottawa Inc.
5977 Hazeldean Road
Stittsville, ON  K2S 1B9

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