CoPAR Bulletin 14: Creating Records That Will Last

Creating Records That Will Last
by Willow Roberts Powers


Anthropological work focuses on both the present and the past. Many anthropologists think about the future of their records, and their possible usefulness to the discipline, both to further research in similar fields or topics, and to history. With this in mind, CoPAR has written this series of bulletins to help focus attention on archival aspects of research: the care, preservation, donation, use, and ethics of these by-products of anthropological work. There is another question to address: how to create records that last.

CoPAR Bulletin No. 3 — Easy Steps for Preserving Your Anthropological Records — provides some useful information relevant to creating long-lasting records. CoPAR Bulletins Nos. 13 and 14 have information relevant to preserving photographic materials and audiovisual materials respectively. This bulletin will provide an annotated list of materials that are best to use as well as those that are best avoided, in the mundane but critical production of records.

When you create records, you should use basic, good quality materials that will last, and document and organized them after each project. Should your research materials be placed in an archival repository, archivists will process your records and provide archival quality storage, as well as professional arrangement and description (which will follow your own documentation). The following information is provided to help busy anthropologists who want to ensure the longevity of their papers, photographs, and audiovisual materials, may not be funded for the more expensive archival housing and storage of them, and want to do as much as they can as simply as possible.

Creating Records

Especially relevant here is the section in CoPAR Bulletin No.3: Step 2: Know Your Formats. For all media: beware of plastics except archival polyester; avoid colored paper, yellow pads, manila envelopes, and glue of any kind. Never use felt tipped pens. Tests for longevity (i.e. the stability and color-fastness of inks) are carried out on printer and photocopy inks. Ordinary pens (rarely tested) can be problematic: their ink, especially in ballpoint pens, can fade, or in the case of felt-tipped pens, bleed through paper. Note that India ink, though it will not fade, can be highly acidic and eat through paper.

The following information relates to materials for creating records; for preservation and storage, See CoPAR Bulletins Nos. 3, 12, and 13.

Paper based records:

  • Paper: Use acid free paper. Though archival supply catalogues carry acid free bond paper it is usually expensive; regular paper suppliers carry inexpensive acid free paper. Note that, because of Federal (and much State) requirements for the use of acid free paper in creating government records, much paper is currently acid-free even when it does not say so. To test paper, an inexpensive acid-tester pen is available from many of the supply catalogues listed in CoPAR Bulletin No. 11.
  • Paper: Do not use: yellow (or any other color) note pads; colored paper of any kind; brown wrapping paper; manila envelopes.
  • Do not use rubber bands for long-term storage, as they will harden and snap in pieces, or soften and expand. Keep things together by using folders.
  • Use stainless steel, plastic-covered, or plastic paper clips. Staples are acceptable for temporary storage; archivists may remove them later.
  • Folders: Regular, clean, manila folders are adequate for regular use.
  • Do not use labels as they will eventually fall off; if you must use them, write the file title underneath the label, in pencil. If you have good funding, buy acid free folders from archival catalogues. Write in pencil, not ink or ballpoint.
  • Notebooks: both spiral-bound and gummed edge notebooks can provide problems later – gum may deteriorate and pages become loose, metal spirals can rust, and are bulky to store, and can damage neighboring files. It is good practice to date and number the pages of all notebooks from the beginning.
  • Binders: Plastic binders are almost always made of polyvinylchloride (PVC) and contribute to serious deterioration of paper, photographs, etc. even in the short term. Papers may tear away from the metal rings. Labels on PVC may, over time, produce ooze and grease. If plastic binders are used for convenience transfer all notes, papers, photographs into file folders as soon as possible.

Photographs & Film:

Local photographic suppliers can also be helpful; or contact a curator or archivist in a local institution for help or recommendations.

  • Slides are intended for use, and make poor archival materials since exposure to the projector bulb will inevitably contribute to deterioration over time.
  • Fujichrome film is recommended for slides. Kodachrome is ideal for slides that will hardly ever be projected (archival or master copies).
  • Slides need to be shown. Any documentary slide should be duplicated and/or printed: they can be turned into enlarged color photocopies at copy shops which have special equipment.
  • For prints and negatives: most good quality, brand-name film from recognized manufacturers is acceptable for longevity. Black and white will always be more stable than color film, but color film has improved its stability considerably. Kodak and Fuji both make excellent film which lasts.
  • The paper on which negatives are printed is also important. Avoid wax-coated prints (used in regular film processing) if possible. Fujicolor papers are excellent (Fujicolor Paper Super FA Type 3, or Fujicolor Supreme Paper SFA3, for example); Konica color paper is good (Konica Color QA Paper, either Type A5, A3, Professional Type X2, or super glossy A3).
  • Printers (and their inks) used to create hardcopy of digital images undergo testing for longevity and stability. Many printers currently produce stable images: Kodak XL 7700 Series digital printers, for example, are excellent, as are Agfa Digital Printing Systems and Canon Color Laser copier/printers. Technology in this area changes rapidly, and it is worth consulting experts.
  • Motion picture film (color negative): Fujicolor negative films are recommended, as is Eastman Color negative film. For color print film, Fujicolor Positive film is also good.
  • Do not use PVC sleeves or binders for prints or negatives even for short term storage; do not use manila envelopes or any other acidic paper for storing or mounting prints.


Magnetic media does not last long, and cassette tape life is from ten to thirty years. Reel to reel is preferable for archival tapes. However, cassette tape recording is efficient and most frequently used.

  • Always use new, good quality, brand-name tapes from recognized manufacturers.
  • Buy only 60 minute cassette tapes.
  • Do not use once-used audio tapes for documentary recording.
  • It’s helpful to always record an opening identification on every tape.
  • Make at least two, preferably three, copies. Keep one archival master copy unused. Document and label all copies accordingly.
  • When making transcriptions, make an additional tape for use; pausing, rewinding, and forwarding create considerable wear and tear on the tape, and may cause permanent distortion.
  • transcribe and print all critical interviews or other important recorded data; this is the only format that will ensure a life span beyond 30 years
  • Place documentary tapes in archival plastic cases (from archival catalogues).


As mentioned for audiotapes, magnetic media has a short life, and video technology in particular continues to be developed as archival concerns are voiced. Current life is not fully known. Depending on environment, storage conditions and use, it can be anywhere from ten to thirty years. Archival consultants predict a shorter life than manufacturers. See CoPAR Bulletin No. 13 for information on magnetic media.

  • Always use new, good quality, brand-name tapes from recognized manufacturers.
  • Do not use extended-play videotapes (the tape base is thinner). Use 60 minute tapes.
  • Do not use once-used videotapes for documentary recording.
  • Before recording, wind the tape from one side to the other and back again, to relieve any possible stresses in the tape.
  • Always make at least 2 high quality copies, immediately: an archival master and a use copy. However, it is even better to make 3 copies: a master, a reference copy, and a use copy. Any duplication can be made from the reference copy, which will otherwise not be used. Make sure the master is not ever played: use the reference copy to create new copies and do not use it to view the tape. Document and label all versions accordingly.
  • It’s common practice to tape an introductory identification on video, as with audiotapes.
  • Do not leave the tape in the video recorder for a long time, such as overnight.
  • Do not eject a tape in the middle of a recording.
  • Pausing a tape for a long time can also contribute to poor image quality.
  • Fast-forwarding contributes to rapid deterioration.
  • Document all tapes so they do not need to be played unnecessarily.
  • When playing tapes, make sure the equipment is operating properly; malfunctioning or dirty equipment will cause damage.
  • Deterioration can occur rapidly in videotapes. Copy your important tapes every 5 to 7 years (if necessary, have them copied professionally).
  • Place documentary videos in archival plastic cases (from archival catalogues).

Compact Discs:

CDs are convenient, and their lifespan depends as much on software as anything else. Lifespan has been predicted of from 20 to 30 years. As with magnetic media, software is a crucial factor in compatibility and use. Deterioration can be sudden and unrecognized, and is caused by physical stress in handling including bending and pressure, poor storage (heat, light or humidity), dirt, grit, and scratches, and general aging and warping.

  • Use quality CDs from brand name manufacturers.
  • Keep informed as technology changes, and obtain information from media specialists.
  • Store in plastic cases that have a tray to hold the CD in place.
  • Store vertically away from heat and light, in a cool, dry, dark place.
  • Handle carefully, holding by the edge. Do not bend or drop them. Do not mail them.
  • Don’t rub them or brush them. If they must be cleaned used only compressed air or a damp cloth (use distilled water), gently working from the center to the edge.

Digital preservation is a topic to be addressed in a forthcoming CoPAR Bulletin No. 15. It goes far beyond buying good CDs or ZIP discs, and backing up one’s records and data. However, key factors will be to reformat digital media (on a regular basis, such as every 7 or 10 years), and to keep abreast of new archival information and technology, as research produces longevity information, new materials, new equipment, and suggested solutions.


A Note on Boxes: Although these are storage items, the organization of newly created records depends to a large extent on how they are stored. The following information may be useful:

  • Cartons: These are 15″x12″x10″ cardboard boxes with separate lids. Storing records in cartons generally occurs when files are emptied for continued storage. Use new cartons with lids; ideally they should be acid free (such as Paige and Hollinger archival boxes). Never reuse beer or produce boxes, or any other old boxes which might have insects, mould, or other organisms which will contribute to destruction. Archival catalogues supply acid-free cartons, which are ideal and relatively inexpensive.
  • New non-archival cartons, obtainable from office supply stores, will keep papers clean and tidy until proper archival storage can be afforded. They will, in the long run, contribute to discoloring and deterioration of paper. Do not use oversized cartons—the carton should be approximately 15” long by 12” wide by 16” tall. Anything larger will be too heavy to manage, and is easily dropped, broken, and crushed.
  • Document boxes: archival catalogues supply smaller document boxes for file folders, in letter and legal sizes; they come in 5” and 2.5” widths. They are non-acidic, expensive and worth the cost. Usually there are two varieties: a less expensive blue or grey box (contains lignin—a part of wood pulp which eventually will become acidic, but the lining is acid-free), and a more expensive tan or light colored box which is entirely acid- and lignin-free.
  • Specialty boxes: archival catalogues carry many different shapes and sizes of (usually acid free) cardboard boxes for storing all kinds of materials. There are flat boxes for albums, photographs, and drawings. There are special boxes, and folders, for maps, blueprints, newspapers, and other oversized materials. There are boxes in different sizes for upright storage of regular negatives, glass negatives, postcards, videotapes, audiotapes, and film.
  • When packing boxes, never overfill them with papers. Removing anything from boxes stuff tightly with materials inevitably contributes to damage or destruction.

Those who create records may be individuals working alone or project staff. Both researchers in projects or independent work should plan the practicalities of record creation before they begin. Project directors should make sure all colleagues have the same basic information and materials for long-lasting paper, photographic, and audiovisual records.

Projects frequently have guidelines and requirements for depositing the products of research. At the end of a project, the final responsibility is to send the records, properly organized and identified, to the archival repository which has been specified by the grant or institution. If no repository is specified or suggested, consult Bulletin No. 4.

References and Resources

For papers:

Northeast Document Conservation Center, Contact at:

For photographs and film:

Henry Wilhelm, 1993. The Permanence and Care of Color Photographs: Traditional and Digital Color Prints, Color Negatives, Slides, and Motion Pictures. Grinnell, Iowa; Preservation Publishing Company.


The Image Permanence Institute Contact at:

For Audio and Video tapes:

Commission on Preservation and Access, and
The National Media Laboratory

For CDs:

William R. Nugent, 1995.‘Compact Discs and other Digital Optical Discs.’ In Storage of Natural History Collections: A Preventive Conservation Approach. York, PA: Society for the Preservation of Natural History Collections.

Sources for information and publications:

Society of American Archivists – click Catalogue for publications;
Phone: (312) 922-0140

ARMA (an association for information management professionals)

National Archives and Records Administration


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