Spare a thought for the poor archivist next time you use a paper clip to keep items together, or slap a post-it note on a folder. These ‘tools’ may be useful now, but when they are tackled in 50 years time by someone cataloguing a collection they will be seen as irritants. Why?
Metal paper clips rust over the years and are difficult to extract from paper in this state. They also leave a brown stain if they are removed succesfully. Staples and pins will also rust and cause similar problems. The answer is to use all plastic or brass paper clips.
Although post-it notes have a low-tack adhesive and are designed to be removed without leaving a mark, over time the adhesive hardens. I removed a post-it note (1990 vintage) from a Christmas card Carl Giles had illustrated and it left a ‘gunge’. Luckily it was one of many duplicates but what if it had been the only copy or highly valuable? One option would have been to leave the post-it note attached and let the adhesive degrade over a longer period of time so that it would eventually dry out, allowing the post-it note to fall off. But it would still leave a stain. The same thing applies to sellotape, so remember that when you are taping torn pieces of paper back together.
Elastic bands are handy as well but over time the elastic hardens, becomes brittle and sticks to whatever it is holding.
As post-it notes are a relatively new invention they are going to be found in greater quantities when material from the 1970s onwards get appraised to see if it is of archival value and needs to be kept. So, keep this in mind the next time you want to use our multi-coloured ‘friend’.
I wonder when the oldest post-it note still attached to a document was first used?