Melissa Barker, aka The Archive Lady, unravels the mysteries of preserving Spiral Notebooks!
Stephen in Florida asks: “I have seen your webinars and writings about removing all metal from documents and replacing it with plastic fasteners. I have several spiral notebooks that my aunt used as her journal. The information in them is priceless and I want to make sure it is preserved. Should I remove the metal coil from the notebook?”
I am so glad Stephen asked this question. Metal fasteners are attached to many of our genealogical records, such things as staples, metal paper clips and even straight pins. This metal can be very damaging if it is left on the documents. The damage can come in the form of holes, tears and damage from the metal if it has rusted. All metal should be removed from genealogical documents to prevent any damage and to prolong the life of those wonderful documents. When I teach, lecture and write about records preservation, my very first instruction is to remove all metal from genealogical and historical documents.
Stephen has a type of record book that could pose a problem for any genealogist. Spiral bound notebooks have been around for many years. Originally called a loose-leaf spiral notebook in which the pages are held in position by a spiral or coil of metal wire. The use of these notebooks for all kinds of purposes is still done today. In Stephen’s case, his aunt used these types of notebooks to write her memories and experiencing down and is a true family treasure.
There are actually three options for Stephen in this situation. If the coiled metal in the notebook is not rusted or damaged in anyway, it would be permissible by records preservation standards to leave the entire notebook intact. Even though archivists strive to remove all metal, in this case, sometimes it is best to leave things as they are. I recommend that the pages in the notebook be digitized completely and then place the entire notebook in an archival file folder and then into an archival box.
The second option is to remove the metal coil but unscrewing it out of the notebook. Some notebooks will allow for this option to be performed with no trouble at all. But if there is any resistance or difficulty trying to unscrew the metal coil out of the notebook, stop immediately. The last thing you want is to damage the pages in the notebook that contain genealogical information.
The third option and one that many archivists choose to implement is to remove the metal coil from the notebook. This is especially true if the metal coil is rusted, damaged or causing damage in any way to the pages inside the notebook. In this process, it is recommended that all the pages in the notebook be digitized first. It should be noted that removing the metal coil will make scanning the pages of the notebook much easier. Next, using wire cutters, snip the metal coil in several places along the length of the coiled metal. Slowly and carefully, remove each section of coiled wire. If the wire will not remove easily, make more cuts with the wire cutters to make smaller pieces to make removal easier. If the metal coil is rusted and sticking to the pages, remove the metal very slowly as to not inflict more damage. This process is tedious but well worth the time taken.
Once the metal coil is removed, make sure to keep the pages in their original order and place the notebook in an archival file folder. If desired, a plastic paper clip can be used to clip the pages of the notebook together, but if the notebook is kept in a file folder, a fastener is not needed. The file folder can then be place in an archival box or in a filing cabinet.
As always, if you do not feel comfortable doing the preservation procedures yourself, please consult with a professional conservator.
Preserving our most precious genealogical documents and records is the only way they will survive for our descendants to enjoy.
Legacy Family Tree Webinars and Quick Guides by Melissa Barker
Metal Paper Clips, Rubber Bands and Tape, OH MY!
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Melissa Barker lives in Tennessee Ridge, Tennessee. She is the Houston County (TN) Archivist and a Professional Genealogist. She writes the blog, A Genealogist in the Archives, and has been researching her own family for over 26 years. She lectures, teaches and writes about researching in archives and records preservation.
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