Documents Restoration Process

Very often, the archiving of documents, books, photographs and maps of great scientific and historical importance is neglected even in developed countries and countries that have a long history in archival science. Preservation of historical documents is a science in itself that has its requirements, methodology and approaches, which should be followed step by step to prolong the life of a document as long as possible. It is not unusual that a huge number of documents, which were not handled with due care or properly preserved, need to be restored.
With the passage of time, many documents are damaged, destroyed or disintegrated by normal wear and tear, chemicals and misuse or overuse, as well as accidents, such as floods and fires.  In many cases, the damage to documents is not discovered until after it spreads across the document, since acid is part of the chemicals in paper.  Insects and rodents are silent factors, the effect or damage of which is only discovered too late. A great many people will remember the story of the death of Prophet Solomon (Sulaiman), peace be upon him, which was only discovered when earthworms had eaten away his stick.  Similarly, damage to many documents is only discovered after they completely fall to pieces.
In addition to silent factors, there are also unexpected events like natural disasters and accidents.  A natural disaster that is still alive in the memory of many archivists is the earthquake that hit Portugal in the eighteenth century. It destroyed a document storage building and destroyed a large portion of priceless historical maps. In another accident, floodwater rushed into the lobby of a branch of the French National Archives, damaging thousands of documents, which were only restored with a great effort and a lot of money.  An example of unexpected factors is what happened in the Egyptian National Library, as terrorist acts of vandalism resulted in the burning of a huge number of rare Egyptian books and documents.  Many people hurried in to salvage as much as possible of the documents that were, at best, partially burned, in order to restore them as soon as possible. Salvaging efforts are still being made at the time of writing this article.
Poor storage is the most harmful factor to documents, as nothing can be done for documents, which are undergoing disintegration before the archivists’ eyes due to the lack of financial resources required to improve storage conditions. A large number of archives in many countries around the world lack air-conditioned document storage buildings, necessary to control the level of temperature and humidity, both of which are key factors in document preservation.
Finally, poor and frequent use of documents: Numerous documents are overused or misused by members of the public, who may be unaware of or unconcerned about proper handling methods. In many cases,  the  material of old documents are of poor quality and more fragile than modern paper, which people are used to handle and, consequently, parts of the document often disintegrate as soon as the document is handled if such a document is not encased.
Restoration is the main element in the preservation of documents and manuscripts. At the end of the disinfection and chemical treatment of documents and manuscripts, the Restoration Section proceeds with their partial or complete restoration. This depends on the size of the affected part of and the extent of damage to the document or manuscript. The process includes necessary repairs in terms of filling up any holes, adding missing parts and strengthening the sheet paper in addition to other restoration processes. The Restoration Section is a good example, which should be followed in establishing any other restoration sections, as it is an integrated laboratory with the state-of-the-art restoration equipment.

Restoration Section Equipment

The Section contains the latest tables equipped with illuminated panels and electric switches for the restoration work as well as a number of other equipment including:
•    Water distillation machine: distills water in order to be used later in document treatment and de-acidification.
•    Steaming device: used to separate documents and manuscripts sheets that are very firmly stuck together.
•    "Mylar" encapsulation device: used in covering documents at the end of restoration.
•    Thermal press: used to flatten and dry papers, and to restore some documents and manuscripts.
•    Dry cleaning device: sucks dust and dirt off documents, dries documents and manuscripts after treatment and de-acidification of same. It is a fast and an ozone based disinfecting device.
•    Thermal iron: used in manual restoration.
•    Hole filling device: fills up holes in the document by placing a paste that matches the paper thickness and color in a tub filled with water, which is then drained out through an automated drainage system.
•    Document lamination machine: restores documents automatically. Documents are covered with special paper. It is the first restoration device at the National Archives.
•    Paper cutter: used to cut documents according to size.
•    Polyethylene cutter: used to cut the required sizes from the polyethylene roll
•    Manual Press: used for pressing documents and manuscripts
•    Hydraulic thermal press: used in document restoration as well as in book cold pressing.
•    A toxic gases (fumes) extraction cupboard.

    Types of Document Restoration

  1. An artistic process that depends on dexterity and involves collating, binding and strengthening paper sheets, and then bringing the document back as close as possible to its original condition by restoring it and repairing damage caused by natural, chemical and biological factors. The restorer must be experienced in document restoration and conversant in international laws on restoration. The restoration process includes:
     (A) Manual restoration.
    (B) Restoration by plastic chip packaging or automatic lamination.
    Manual restoration aims at fitting in the missing pieces of a document and using chemically neutralized paper, which has the same thickness and is, more or less, of the same color of the original paper.
    Automatic restoration is one stage in the restoration process followed by the manual restoration stage, in which cuttings and missing parts of the document papers are brought together and completed. As a result, the final form of the paper we get is durable, soft and of good form.
    Automatic restoration is carried out on severely damaged documents that are difficult to restore manually; more precisely for documents that are on the brink of destruction and disintegration. It aims at salvaging such documents and preserving their documentary contents. Automatic restoration should be carried out with extreme caution because heat is involved.