Dust can cause damage to documents by general soiling or by speeding up the chemical processes that lead to material breakdown.

Removing dust or protecting items from dust in archives can be a labour-intensive job. Archives invest in cleaning their store areas and boxing their collections in an effort to preserve them for as long as possible.

It is important to allocate resource in archives effectively, however, as yet there is no information available on how dusty is too dusty. What are the risks to collections from accumulated dust?

Conservation Research Fellowship

The National Archives is supporting a one-year research fellowship to answer this question.

Working with colleagues from across The National Archives and experts from other cultural heritage organisations, the Fellow will:

  • identify the sources and composition of dust in the storage areas at Kew and the off-site store in Cheshire
  • determine the effects of dust on archival collections and their enclosures, and identify the factors that can influence these effects
  • measure dust levels and calculate rates of deposition in the different storage areas
  • identify the most appropriate measure for quantifying the risk of damage by dust (e.g. dust levels, deposition rate, infiltration rate, handling of enclosure)
  • determine the point at which dust poses a significant risk to the archival collection, and whether/how this risk increases
  • measure the effectiveness of boxes in limiting the risks to the collection due to dust, and determine which factors influence the amount of dust entering the boxes
  • evaluate different strategies for reducing the risk from dust to the collection stored at both Kew and Cheshire

The results of the work will feed into a decision-making tool that will enable The National Archives and other archives to make fully informed decisions about collection storage cleaning regimes and other strategies for reducing the risks posed to archival documents from dust.