I thought it might be of interest to record one of the more unusual conservation issues that we have come across in the last year.
Recently one of our donations proved to be more challenging than usual for our Borough Archivist. During the initial process of checking and accessioning all of the documents contained in the deposit, she came across what appeared to be a bundle of blank sheets of thin A4 paper! On closer inspection one could just see the shadows of text and outlines of plans on what was possibly fax paper? As you can appreciate trying to read these documents was very frustrating whilst also very intriguing – as contained within there was obviously information that needed to be appraised and ultimately saved.
Fast forward to a lovely day trip for me! In order to get the very best advice about what information could be retrieved from our documents I visited Nic Rayner, ACR, at Manchester Central Library. Nic is the Archives and Conservation officer for the Greater Manchester Museums Group. He advised me that he may be able to retrieve the information before it deteriorated further. He has kindly outlined the processes he followed to achieve what I am sure will agree are fantastic results!
We scanned the original faxes on a flatbed Bookeye book scanner, which, because it is designed to scan books, has a very sophisticated focusing mechanism. We got a couple of these recently, one for public use, and one for staff use. This means that it is possible to scan old documents, books and pamphlets and then make a surrogate copy available for general use, thereby reducing damage to the originals. Once I had the scanned images I transferred them to Adobe Photoshop and adjusted various settings for each image. There are adjustments for brightness and contrast with which it is possible to lighten or darken the basic whiteness of the document and the contrast between the black and white areas. It is then also possible to adjust the colour balance, even though these images are black and white, this can bring up information not previously visible. There are also other adjustments available for what are referred to as curves, with which it is possible to make multiple adjustments to different areas of the light frequencies in the image. It is generally necessary to make these adjustments to individual images, because the fading is different in each image.
Thanks very much to Nic. In the future I hope to be able to bring you more examples of the conservation challenges we face when caring for the Borough’s photographic and documentary history.