Providing access to fragile or damaged items in our collections

At Gloucestershire Archives, we do the best we can to ensure that the collections in our care are preserved securely and permanently. But some parts of our collections have suffered damage in the past because they have been well used or because they have been kept in poor conditions before reaching us. For example, documents might be damaged by mould, heavily soiled by smoke and coal dust, badly torn, eaten by mice or broken into pieces!

Although we try to provide the widest possible access to our collections, we may need to restrict access to documents in order to protect them from further damage. Of course we will let you know if the information you are looking for can be gleaned from other sources.

Our conservators assess damaged documents and decide which of three condition categories they fall into: either “Handle with Care”, “Assistance Required” or “Unfit for Production”.

 Handle with care means a fragile or slightly damaged item that may be viewed if handled carefully. Staff will show customers how to use proper supports such as foam wedges if these are required.

Damaged will

HANDLE WITH CARE:  This will has split along old fold lines and is vulnerable to further tearing if not handled carefully.


Mould damaged register

HANDLE WITH CARE:  This mould-damaged register can be viewed if the volume is supported by foam wedges and the pages are gently turned at the top edge.

Assistance required means the item can only be produced and handled safely if a member of staff is available to help.

Large tithe map

ASSISTANCE REQUIRED:  This large tithe map needs two people to lay it out for viewing. Note the tears in the paper and backing linen along the original fold lines.


Broken glass plate negative

ASSISTANCE REQUIRED:  This image shows a broken glass plate negative that can be viewed if a member of the Collections Care team places the pieces on a padded, illuminated surface. A digital image could also be created by a member of the Reprographics team by scanning the broken plate and manipulating the digital data to create an intact positive image.

Unfit for production means that the item is so damaged that it cannot be produced safely in the research room.

Bundle of architectural plans

UNFIT FOR PRODUCTION:  This bundle of architectural plans, on brittle tracing paper, has been crushed and the ends badly bashed. The paper is torn and fragmented. It will require many hours of careful work to repair.


Mould damaged parish register

UNFIT FOR PRODUCTION:  This Parish Register is so badly weakened by mould damage that repairing it will require many hours of work.

What do we do about items that are so damaged they are unfit for production? We do not throw away archival material solely on the basis of poor condition. We very much hope that we might be able to repair them one day!

3 thoughts on “Providing access to fragile or damaged items in our collections

    • Hello Jane! It’s from the church of St. Adeline, in Little Sodbury, Gloucestershire. It is a register of marriages 1754 – 1812 and banns 1839 -1845. The church appears to have been rebuilt in 1859 so images on the Internet of this church are of this building. We might have an image somewhere of the church that existed before this date – some more detective work is required! The document reference number for the register
      is P301/IN1/1.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s