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Municipal Technical Advisory Service (MTAS)

Proper Storage Conditions

Reference Number: MTAS-480
Reviewed Date: 11/23/2022

Like everything else on this planet, records must be in the proper environment to survive. Most of the time, the records that your office uses on a regular basis are kept in the same area in which people work. This is good because, generally, the conditions that are comfortable for humans are also acceptable for storage of records in most formats.

Unless conditions are very severe, temperature and humidity are not factors affecting records scheduled for destruction in a few years. ... Wide fluctuation in temperature and high humidity can result in severe damage to these records. Ideally, the temperature range should be 65 to 75 degrees, and the humidity should be kept at 45 to 55 percent. [1]

These conditions, at least the temperature ranges, are similar to those in the typical office environment. Unfortunately, the records we use most regularly and keep close around us in our offices are often those that we need only temporarily. Concerns about storage conditions become more important the longer you plan to keep a record. The problem is, those long-term or permanent retention records that need better care are often the ones we use less often, so they are moved out of the way into conditions that are less hospitable.

City halls and county courthouses, with their attics and basements, were never designed to accommodate this ever-increasing volume of semi-active and inactive records. This records growth, plus inadequate records programs, has resulted in the misuse of existing office and storage areas and the use of unimproved warehouses, jail cells, fire stations, abandoned school buildings, and hospital rooms as inactive records storage sites, including storage of records of archival value. The undesirable features of these kinds of storage facilities and inadequate programs become apparent once it is necessary to obtain information from records in storage. It takes only a few unsuccessful attempts to locate records in poorly maintained areas to discourage further use. Time, neglect and lack of maintenance will take their toll on records stored there. [2]

For these reasons, cities should consider setting up facilities designed specifically for storing records on a long-term basis. Rather than using basements, attics, or whatever space is available, the city may want to establish a records center for its inactive temporary records and an archive for its permanent value records.

[1] A Guide for the Selection and Development of Local Government Records Storage Facilities, compiled by A.K. Johnson, Jr., CRM, issued by the National Association of Government Archives and Records Administrators (2nd printing, 1991), p.9.

[2] Ibid, 2.