Collections can arrive at the Archives Centre in very good or very poor order. Occasionally, material has been damp and needs checking for mould/insects and sometimes needs drying out.
Collections may arrive in uniform boxes looking neat, or they may be in a variety of cardboard boxes, plastic crates, box files, baskets or carrier bags!
After a process of accessioning, appraisal, listing/cataloguing and packaging, the material that goes out to readers in the reading room looks physically very different from how it arrived.
For preservation reasons, many of the original enclosures and fastenings are removed. For example, ideally all elastic bands, string and metal fastenings are taken off to prevent further damage from degrading rubber, cutting string and corroding metal. Most fastenings also impede handling and make tearing more likely. Many old card folders and wallets are dirty and acidic and can harm the contents - especially those papers that are in direct contact. These old folders/wallets are removed if not intrinsic to the papers. Commercially available plastic wallets and sleeves are often plasticised PVC and both the plasticisers and the chlorinated plastic are chemically damaging to the contents, so these are removed. In addition, many bundles or groupings of papers are huge and cannot be issued as one group of loose papers because poor handling, papers getting out of order and tearing/creasing is much more likely. So large original files or bundles are split down into manageable chunks during the process of preservation packaging.
The protective work of preservation packaging is a very time-consuming one - imagine having to very carefully remove every staple from a heavily stapled file of 200 folios! It is also a costly process as the folders and papers are all archival quality and 'acid free'.