Document quarantine at The National Archives

FOI request reference: CAS-69116-D5Z4N9
Publication date: July 2021


Quarantining of documents: I would like to see the research on which you say documents have to be quarantined for 72 hours.


Information provided.


Throughout the pandemic, we have applied quarantine measures for our documents, which, together with other limiting factors (primarily social distancing) have resulted in limitations to ordering and viewing our documents. Since March 2021, our document production teams have used Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) during the retrieval and return of documents to minimise the need for quarantining, and our systems have ensured that documents are not produced to another reader within a 72-hour quarantine period.

The decision to quarantine documents was based on guidance provided by Public Health England (PHE) and outcomes of the REALM Project, a study conducted by OCLC, the Institute of Museum and Library Services and Battelle, which we have followed closely throughout the pandemic. The guidance suggested that fomite transmission might be a transmission pathway, and that in theory, if an infected person coughs or exhales on collection items, such items could become contaminated, although the risk was considered to be lower than through other transmission pathways, such as respiratory close contact. In response to this, many international heritage bodies and institutions have taken recommendations from health organisations to prevent contamination and adapted them to a heritage setting. The viral persistence of COVID-19 is surface dependent. We have focussed on viral persistence on paper, cardboard and plastic materials, as our collection and packaging materials are primarily made from such materials. There is currently no available guidance for parchment, however this material can be incorporated into the ‘porous’ material category such as paper.

More recently, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, again following PHE guidance, has changed its recommendation for libraries, which is summarised in the library recovery toolkit. PHE’s advice on cleaning in non-healthcare settings outside the home, however, has not changed. In light of this recent development, and following both sets of guidance, we have now removed the need for the quarantining of documents, but continue to apply quarantining procedures for more frequently used reading room aids, such as book wedges and weights. All our measures are in place to guarantee the safety of both our readers and staff.