Writing a Preservation Policy

It is no surprise that discussions surrounding preservation in archives are fraught with stress and hand-wringing, given the climate change concerns that Nova Scotia archives and museums have been facing this year. Few have escaped the effects of on-going temperature fluctuations and moisture, despite the building’s age or construction. A preservation policy lends some security to ever-changing weather patterns and implements strategic measures to protect holdings. 

There are two sample policies provided below and this blog post will lead you through their various sections. Please use the templates as a guide and adapt them in any way to suit the requirements of your archive. 

We encourage you to make reviewing the Preservation Policy a part of any training procedures to ensure staff and volunteers are aware of the archives’ various (preservation) protocols! 


It deserves repeating that the mandate is the segue between your policies and the daily running of the archives. A Preservation Policy establishes standards which should be revisited with each newly established method or routine. Preservation encompasses everything from temperature control to handling procedures. The Archivist should oversee all of the responsibilities associated with the holdings. What a Preservation Policy covers:

General Preservation Policy:

The General Policy should be concise; one or two sentences which state that the archives/heritage museum/society is dedicated to (your mandate) as well as maintaining the care and value of the repository’s holdings.

Preservation Management:

The term Preservation Management Program encompasses the overall preservation strategy of the archives. This is an opportunity to highlight all day-to-day practices and policies pertaining to the preservation of the holdings. It also reinforces that archival staff should adhere to the safeguards put in place.

What it entails: 

It is the primary role of the Archivist to be responsible for the archives’ Preservation Management Program to ensure that:

  • preservation functions are assessed 
  • preservation policies are developed
  • preservation programs are implemented and maintained

Policy Principles:

Policy Principles are a type of checklist which act as the foundation on which your archives’ best practices are built. The policies embody the daily operations of the archive and demonstrate an overall commitment to the holdings and safeguarding their future. 

Tips for writing Policies:

  • Look at the daily practices involved in the running of the archives and highlight the procedures which should be standardized.
  • Ask the person who regularly carries out the task(s) to write down what they do, so the policy reflects an accurate representation of the responsibility.
  • Have someone else follow the instructions within the procedures to see if they are accurate and complete.

Here are some examples of Policy Principles (as per the template):

1-Preservation planning will be ongoing for the sake of the holdings within the (Insert Name) Archives.

2-Temperature and humidity of various shelves/rooms/vault will be regularly monitored and concerns addressed. 

3-Policies to address and ensure preservation concerns will be developed and updated when necessary. ie: Care and Handling procedures for staff and researchers, Disaster Preparedness Plan, Exhibit Policy, Public Access Policy, Security Policy, Pest Control Policy, Reformatting Policy.

4-Providing clean, orderly, and safe storage for collections.

5-Implementing a staff training program specific to the preservation of the holdings.

6-Conservation treatments to archival materials will be performed by or supervised by qualified conservation professionals, and that records of all repairs and alterations will be maintained.

7-Nothing but the most basic conservation procedures are carried out by staff, and contract conservators are hired to perform any conservation treatments.

8-Integrating preservation activities into all archival operations, particularly acquisition, accessioning, service to researchers, exhibition, and all care and handling operations.

9-A commitment to preventive conservation. Policy and practice will reflect this principle which aims to prevent damage in all aspects of its operations.


A valuable, oversized paper deed within your archives has recently been featured on a news story. The camera focused on the intricate wax seal, scribed calligraphy accentuated with red ink (aka: rubrification), and a very specific water mark which may potentially trace it back to a prestigious papermaker. Lucky you! Traffic to the archives has increased, along with the number of researchers who wish to see and handle this particular document. How should you update the Preservation Procedures/Policy and highlight any new guidelines and restrictions?


The Archivist tasked with handling this document and putting it away requires a personal procedural checklist. There also needs to be clearly displayed – and possibly initialled – guidelines for the researcher who is requesting the document. 

The Archivist’s Checklist:

  1. The archivist is responsible for the keys for the locked special collections cabinet.
  2. Cotton gloves must be worn at all times.
  3. Constant supervision of the document is a requirement while it is being viewed. 
  4. Handling would be under the discretion of the Executive Director and Archivist. 
  5. The document will be locked up immediately after it is viewed.
  6. The request form should be signed by the researcher and the Archivist.

This policy clearly states the rules, regulations, and restrictions for users and researchers, which must be followed and observed. Failure to comply with this policy would result in the person(s) losing access to the archives.

  1. All special collections documents require a request form from the customer service desk, which must be dated and signed by the Archivist. 
  2. The researcher will wear cotton gloves supplied by the archives.
  3. The researcher will not be left alone with the document.
  4. Rules around picture-taking would appear here as well, as well as any restrictions regarding photocopying. 
  5. Any restrictions applying to handling – perhaps the document is fragile in specific areas and requires handling from the archivist only.

Additional Considerations – Digital Preservation

A Digital Preservation Policy covers all of the digital assets your institution holds, from the collections database, to digitized items, and born-digital records.

There is a large difference between digital preservation and the preservation of physical archives. For this reason, your digital holdings should have a separate policy. You may be small with a limited budget. In this case, your digital preservation policy may entail simply backing up data on an external hard drive (preferably a solid-state drive!). 

For more information regarding digital preservation plans, see the Canadian Conservation Institute’s (CCI) Digital Preservation Toolkit, which includes a variety of examples of policies for archives and museums of all sizes. One such example from the CCI website includes a digital preservation policy created for the 8th Hussars Museum, in Sussex, NB. The museum, which is located in a preserved train station, was working with a small budget. In Step 3, a chart illustrates the policy created to work within Hussar’s financial constraints.