Clean, scan, print, preserve or discard … What to do?

Kathleen J. McCully,
Executive Director
Isanti Co. Historical Society

Over the past two weeks we have begun to reorganize the contents of 61 boxes of salvaged archival materials. Since there is no order to how the items were crated at the time of the fire, we must now put everything back in order so we can begin to assess what we are able to use again, or what we will have to replace or toss. Because not everything we have saved can be replaced, we have to find a way to preserve the information in them as well as the original damaged item. It could be a very old family history, a one-of-a-kind scrapbook, a very old yearbook, a legal document, or organization records.

Three items after freeze-drying: A very old Swedish family history (L) with the first pages destroyed, but other pages partially usable. McCall Pattern News, was originally encapsulated, but this too is brittle and must be replaced. The Wireless from CHS Sr. Class of 1912, a yearbook that was only water damaged, but very brittle and wavy.

All of the freeze-dried materials are very brittle. After speaking with Belfors, the folks who generously donated their freeze-drying services to us, they state that the molecular structure of the paper has been compromised because of the fire, the water and chemicals used to put out the fire, and by the process of freeze-drying itself. Therefore, even though we have been able to rescue these items either in part or in whole, the life span of the paper has been shortened.

So what does this mean and how does it affect our work? Well, it means that everything that we have must be scanned and a new copy printed on fresh, archival paper. Next we must determine if the damaged item should be kept or tossed. If we want to keep the one-of-a-kind, or irreplaceable original document, then it must be treated with a deacidification spray and encapsulated to minimize exposure to the air and oils from our hands during future handling. Encapsulation is similar to lamination. The difference is when something is laminated, it is heat-sealed between sheets of clear film. Since the adhesive touches the original, it can never again be separated from the laminate. With encapsulation, the item is free-floating between two sheets of film, and the edges beyond the page are sealed with a double-sided tape. This way, you can see both sides of the item, you can handle the page, but it won’t be touched by air or the human hand. If need be, the edges can be opened and the original removed.

As you can see, we have our work cut out for us. This is Week 34 and the journey again seems rather daunting when I see all of the items that need work. While there will be many steps during our recovery process, scanning will take a huge part of the time. I would be interested in speaking with anyone that has computer/scanning experience that would commit to a certain amount of time each week for several months to help with the task of scanning. Training would be provided. As we move ahead with recovery, there will be many more volunteer opportunities available, so please do not hesitate to contact our office and provide your skills and availability.

If you want to support ICHS, donations are greatly appreciated and can be made by mail, at our website, or directly at Cambridge State Bank. For volunteering and all other inquiries, visit, follow us on Facebook, call us at 763-689-4229, email at [email protected] or drop us a letter at 1700 E. Rum River Drive S., Suite K, Cambridge, MN 55008. We are open by appointment only at this time.