The Abbey Newsletter

Volume 17, Number 1
May 1993

Mass Preservation Project in Asunción, Paraguay

by María Esteva

The Mass Preservation Project at the National Archives in Asunción, Paraguay, is the second stage of the OAS-sponsored Conservation Project planned by Alvaro González, Head Conservator, for this valuable and seriously damaged collection of manuscripts from the 16th-19th centuries. The first stage, completed in May 1991, included a survey of the documents and assessment of the institution's resources available for conservation.

Concerned about the conditions under which the collection was stored, and the impossibility of restoring all the deteriorated documents, Alvaro González designed a box and protective enclosures. The box style, which was given the name "Paraguay," proved to be very resistant to the subtropical climate of the city of Asunción.

The Organization of American States (OAS) donated tools and archival materials for the construction of 1000 boxes and 6000 file folders to rehouse the most deteriorated portions of the collection. Permanent paper, adhesives, Mylar envelopes, and microfilm boxes were among the supplies provided for the project.

The conservators worked with the staff and trained them in the construction of the box and folders. A very organized work system was implemented. While some of the people were devoted to the production of protective enclosures and boxes, others cleaned mechanically and unfolded the documents before rehousing them. A condition report was done for each volume treated. Collection of data is planned in order to record the condition of items and establish conservation priorities.

One of the goals of this program was the training of the staff, since in Paraguay nothing has ever been done regarding paper preservation. Cooperating museums and libraries sent some of their employees to receive training during the development of the project.

The plan was rounded out with talks given by experts from Asunción on fire prevention and the meaning and measurement of temperature and relative humidity. Careful instructions were left with the Archives concerning maintenance of the storage area and handling of the documents in the reading room, among other things.

At this point, the employees of the Archives in Asunción have the materials and the skills to protect their historical collection against future deterioration. It is hoped that the third step of the Conservation Project will be accomplished next year. This stage will include the training of some members of the staff in basic conservation procedures and the organization of a Conservation Department in the institution.

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