March 1999


Over time, a variety of fasteners-paper clips, grommets, brads, staples, straight pins, rubber bands, and ribbons-have been used to hold related documents together. All of these items can cause damage to documents. Metal fasteners rust and corrode over time. In addition, brads, grommets, and paper clips can serve as a cutting edge against which brittle papers may break as they are unfolded and handled. While it may be too time consuming to remove all damaging fasteners, the most harmful ones-rusting paper clips, straight pins, and rubber bands-should be removed. All fasteners must be removed prior to microfilming. However, special care must be taken to avoid damaging records, especially if they are already fragile.

Removing fasteners without damaging documents requires special methods. To prevent the document from shifting and becoming damaged as fasteners are removed, place it flat on a hard surface and hold it lightly in place near the fastener.

1. Staples. If documents are in very good condition-strong and flexible-a staple remover may be used. Care must be taken, however, as staple removers can tear thin paper or remove an entire corner of a document. If documents are fragile, a micro-spatula (a small tool available from suppliers of archival products) should be used. Place the document face down and use the staple remover or micro-spatula to lift the shanks of the staple first. Then, turn the document over and carefully use the selected tool to pull the staple through the document from the front.

2. Paper Clips. A micro-spatula should be used to remove paper clips, particularly if they have rusted. With one finger holding the longest side of the paper clip down, gently use the micro-spatula to lift the short side of the paper clip straight up. The paper clip can then be lifted away from the document.

3. Grommets. Improper removal of grommets will result in significant tears. The following method is safe and quick, but it should be employed only when necessary (as when separating documents before microfilming). The tools required are: a mandrel the size of the grommet, a set of punches with concave tips and sharp beveled edges, a hammer, and very heavy cardboard or wood to protect the flat surface used. Place the mandrel directly on the grommet. Place a punch that is the same size as the hole in the grommet inside the grommet; then strike the punch to cut through the layers of paper and allow the grommet to fall out. Two or three strikes of the hammer may be necessary for thick stacks of paper.

4. Rubber Bands. In the early stages of deterioration, rubber bands become soft and tacky, often adhering to paper fibers and adjoining documents. In time, they harden and crack, and are very difficult to remove once they become embedded in the fibers of a document. The only effective method of removal is to scrape them off the paper carefully, using the rounded (not the pointed) end of a micro-spatula. The scraping should be done with the micro-spatula lying flat against the document. If the rubber band will not release without damaging the paper, it should be left alone.

5. Recommended Methods of Attaching Documents. After fasteners have been removed, only documents that are strong and in good condition should be reattached. Stainless steel staples, stainless steel paper clips, or Plastiklips may all be used. The paper clips should be placed over a small strip of acid-free paper (2" wide x 4" long) that has been folded over the top edges of the first document. The paper will protect the document from the pressure of the paper clip. No more than 25-30 sheets of paper should be placed in individual file folders.

Weak or brittle documents should not be attached to other documents. Individual groups of documents can be placed in folders, or small groups of documents can be segregated within a folder, by using folded sheets of acid-free paper that are large enough fully to encompass each group of documents. Fragile documents are best protected by encasing them in conservation-quality polyester. (See "Polyester Film Encapsulation," a handout from the ADAH Government Records Division.) Note: Encapsulation does not slow chemical deterioration. It only protects fragile documents during handling.

6. Supplies and Suppliers:

Plastiklips Archival or library supply companies

Punches and mandrels Hardware stores

Micro-spatulas Archival or library supply companies

7. Sources of Additional Assistance. For lists of archival product suppliers, or for more information on this and other records conservation issues, contact: Linda Overman, ADAH Conservation Officer, at

ADAH Government Records Division

P.O. Box 300100, Montgomery, AL 36130-0100

Telephone: (334)242-4452; fax: (334)240-3433


ADAH web site:

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