Maybe “hate” is too strong of a word. A better title might be “Mr. Clippy provides conservators with job security.” Paperclips, staples, and rubber bands all damage archival materials either mechanically (i.e. creasing, wrinkling) or chemically (i.e. rusting, leaching acidic compounds) resulting in brittle paper, tears, accretions, staining and losses.
While there is an art to removing rusty fasteners, the results are often disappointing and require additional treatment to reattach pieces, fill losses and stabilize weakened paper. Of course, all of this can be avoided by using better processing protocols. But in this age of “More Product, Less Process,” I fear we are creating a monster that future conservators will have to slay.
Manuscript Processing Best Practices (from a conservator’s point of view)
As a library conservator I understand the complicated nature of processing collections and the resources needed to do so. I can’t say “never use paperclips” because, let’s face it, we process hundreds of collections every year containing thousands of pieces of paper and sometimes those pieces of paper need to stay together. We also have to do this processing on a tight budget, and often with student or volunteer labor who may not be well versed in handling fragile materials. So, we need a continuum of options and best practice guidelines to help minimize damage while maintaining efficient workflows.
Remove original fasteners
NEDCC has a great tutorial on how to carefully remove all kinds of fasteners. Yes, it takes time and practice but it saves more time and effort in the future.
Use non-invasive methods to keep papers together
Instead of clipping multi-page manuscripts together, put the loose sheets into a separate file folder. If the papers must be with other items within a file folder, use a buffered-bond paper folder or a polyester sleeve (trade names Melinex and Mylar) to keep them separate from other papers.
Use better paperclips and avoid text
Paperclips should only be used on modern, flexible, non-brittle paper. If the materials are at all damaged or brittle, put them into a paper or polyester sleeve.
If your organization can afford stainless steel paperclips, use them since they have a smooth surface and will not rust. Plastic paperclips are an alternative to metal. These plastic clips are made of polystyrene, which will become brittle and break over time but they won’t rust. White ones are best if you can find them.
When clipping papers together, try to avoid clipping over any informational content. If in the future you try to remove the clip and it takes a chunk of manuscript with it, at least you will have avoided a loss of information.
Protect paper with paper (or polyester)
Whatever paperclip you use, create a barrier between the clip and the manuscript. An easy and affordable way to do this is with a strip of buffered-bond paper or a piece of polyester. Simply cut a strip about 1-2 inches wide by about 4 inches long. Fold it in half lengthwise and place it over the manuscript pages so that one “leg” is on each side of the stack of paper. Then put the paper clip over the strip. This creates a barrier between the clip and the object.
These are my suggestions. If you have any tips or paperclip policies to share, please add them in the comments section. I always like to hear what other institutions do to solve problems like Mr. Clippy.