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Recordkeeping In Brief 14 - Handle with care

This Recordkeeping in Brief has been designed for records managers to distribute to staff and other records users. The guidance in this fact sheet pertains to the handling of records which have a physical format, for example paper files and documents, volumes and registers, maps, plans, charts, and drawings.

General rules | Paper-based files | Maps and plans | Volumes | Photographs and negatives | Magnetic media | CDs and DVDs | Microforms

Records are an important information asset for public offices. They assist decision making, they allow the organisation to be accountable, and they protect the rights and interests of the organisation’s clients and staff.

Under the State Records Act 1998, public offices are required to ensure that State records are kept safely and properly preserved. Staff and users should be encouraged to follow these simple guidelines to ensure that records are handled correctly so that they survive and are useable for as long as they are required.

General rules

  • Only authorised users should access the organisation’s records.
  • Always handle records carefully, supporting them so that minimal damage occurs.
  • If you damage records in handling, do not attempt to repair the records! Contact the records manager and advise that the records have been damaged. Major repairs and conservation work should only be carried out under the supervision of a Conservator and in consultation with State Records.
  • Never smoke, eat or drink around the records. Ensure that hands are clean and free from food, grease and hand creams.
  • Records (files, volumes or documents) should not be placed on the floor or on unclean surfaces.
  • Use a pencil when working with State archives, not pens or markers. State archives should never be added to, or have information deleted, altered or removed unless other legislation or the courts permit this action.
  • If digitising records ensure that they are supported and undamaged by the copying process.  Please see the new Digitisation guidelines
  • See the records staff in your organisation if you have any questions.

Paper-based files

  • Ensure pages remain in the order in which they were created. Do not remove, extract or rearrange pages on the file. Bring misfiled pages to the attention of records staff.
  • Turn pages carefully to avoid tearing the pages. Do not wet fingers as this transfers saliva and dirt onto the records.
  • If you need to mark a page in the file - use a piece of clean white paper to bookmark the page and remove it when you are finished. Do not fold corners or use 'post it' notes. 
  • Never use adhesive (sticky) tape to repair the page or file. It will cause further damage to the paper and/or file.
  • Avoid using metal pins, staples and paper clips as they rust. Use only pins or clips that are made from stainless steel.
  • If you need to isolate materials such as photographs from the rest of the file, or replace torn or loose pages, place them in polypropylene, polyethylene or polyester bags which should then be attached to the file.

Maps and plans

  • Maps and plans are usually large items and need a large space and extra care when viewing these items. Use a desk or other flat surface to support the maps or plans and/or manoeuvre them.  Ensure surfaces are clean.
  • Try to transport the plan flat if it has been stored flat, as rolling can put stresses on the paper or cardboard. The flat bed trolleys in the records area can be used to move these items, but be careful to ensure that the maps do not hang off the edge or drag on the floor.
  • If the plans have been stored rolled, unroll them gently using weights to hold down the curled ends. Do not roll the plans backwards.
  • Never laminate maps and plans. It is not reversible and can speed up deterioration. See the records management staff for alternative solutions.
  • Never fold maps or plans. If they must be folded to add to a file, copy them and include the copy in the file. The original can then be stored flat elsewhere.
  • Never use adhesive (sticky) tape to repair maps and plans.  It will cause further damage.


Volumes are bound books, e.g. registers or ledgers.

  • If you are removing or replacing volumes on shelving hold them at the centre of the spine. Never pull volumes off the shelf by the top or bottom of the spine, as eventually the spine will tear.
  • Use a trolley when moving heavy volumes or moving more than one volume at a time.
  • Examine volumes on a clean surface and never try to force the spine flat. Support fragile volumes in a V shape by placing blocks of wood or bundles of cloth on the table under each cover to reduce the stress on the binding.
  • Turn pages carefully to avoid tearing. Do not wet fingers as this transfers saliva and dirt onto the records.
  • If pages or the spines are damaged, tie the volume closed with cotton tape until a permanent repair under the supervision of a Conservator can be made.
  • Never use adhesive (sticky) tape to repair volumes. It will cause further damage. Alert records staff to the damaged volume so that arrangements can be made for repairs to the volume.

Photographs and negatives

  • Keep the photographs and negatives as clean as possible and in a clean storage environment. Insects are attracted to the paper and gelatin and can severely damage photographs. Deposits of dirt can produce harmful chemical reactions and scratch the emulsion layer of the photograph.
  • If you are handling important photographs or photographs required to be kept for a long time, use lint free cotton gloves, as fingerprints can damage the emulsion layer.
  • If the photographs are not in an album, support them using rigid cardboard or board during viewing.
  • Never touch the image when handling photographs or negatives.
  • Ensure that any viewing equipment is clean before use.
  • Never write or attach labels directly onto photographs, back or front, as it will damage the image. Identification should be placed on the packaging.

Magnetic media

Magnetic media commonly includes magnetic tape like audio cassettes and reel to reel tapes, videotapes, computer tapes, magnetic hard disks, and magnetic floppy disks.

  • Never use magnetic media near magnetic fields (such as high voltage power lines, lightning arresters, fridge magnets, headphones and speaker cabinets).
  • Keep magnetic media as clean as possible. Sweat and oil can promote mould growth and attract dust. You may wish to use lint free cotton gloves.
  • If you are carrying an open reel tape, support it by the hub of the tape.
  • Never flex floppy disks, bend them or pick them up by the oval slot in their jackets or by the centre hole in the disk.
  • Write labels in ink rather than pencil as graphite dust from pencils can interfere with the reading of the disk or tape. Write the label before placing it on the disk.
  • Return items to their containers immediately after use.
  • Never leave cassettes or tapes wound part-way. Wind them to the end of one side after use.
  • Try not to bump or drop magnetic media when you are moving it. See the records staff for more information about transporting magnetic media.

CDs and DVDs

  • Keep optical discs as clean as possible. Use lint free cotton gloves to avoid scratching or marking of the surface.
  • Handle discs using the centre hole. Never touch the reflective side of the disc.
  • Return items to their containers immediately after use.
  • Never flex or bend discs.
  • If the disc is dirty gently remove dust using a soft brush or non-abrasive photographic lens tissue (available from the records staff). Oil can be removed using a small amount of photographic lens cleaning solution. The cleaning motion should never be circular along the tracks. Brush from the centre of the disc outwards.


  • Keep microforms as clean as possible. You may wish to use lint free cotton gloves.
  • Never use silver halide masters for reference purposes as the film rolling mechanisms on the reader and printer equipment can cause scratching. Reference copies should be available for use.
  • Never leave films in the viewing equipment for long periods of time as the light will affect the quality of the image.
  • Return items to their containers immediately after use.
  • Ensure that any viewing equipment is clean before use.


Much of the information in this Recordkeeping in Brief has been extracted from the National Archives of Australia’s Preserving physical records guidance. Their assistance is gratefully acknowledged.

© State of New South Wales through the State Records Authority, 2000. Revised 2012. This work may be freely reproduced and distributed for most purposes, however some restrictions apply.

ISSN 1440-3978