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.