What’s a Conservator?

Unlike archivists, who focus on the content of documents, conservators taught to think about the physical makeup of documents. To conservators, who often have a background in studio arts and sciences, the kinds of paper and ink used to create a document and the presence of unique features—such as seals or ribbons that were used as early fasteners of documents—are as interesting as the story the words tell.

Documents and artifacts that come to the Department represent the many different ways that people have recorded information over time. They vary tremendously—from quill pen used on parchment to modern-day computer printouts.

There are many reasons why materials in the National Archives receive conservation treatment. For example, wide-angle (panoramic) photographs or large maps that were rolled-up for years cannot be opened safely until they are carefully unrolled and treated in the conservation lab. Sometimes a document must be protected before it can be handled regularly by researchers.

All documents that are displayed at the National Archives Building are examined first by conservators. If necessary, they are then treated to ensure that they are safe to exhibit. Conservators work with a variety of tools and materials. Conservators try to use treatment materials that will not adversely affect the materials over time.



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