“If you see live bugs, get out and tell us. If you see mold, come get us right away. Good luck.”
If you heard those words out loud, I’m not sure what you’d expect, but I’ve learned to expect an adventure in the acquisitions room. On our first day, this was the short warning we received before we began sifting through uncharted items. With every uncharted course, however, there are also a few adventures and dangers. After hearing a rundown of bug damage, how to tell if mold is active or not — if it’s standing up, you’ve got a problem — we were left to our task. Everything else was on the go, hands-on learning.
With all the potential problems in store, walking into the acquisitions room kind of felt like walking into a minefield. I don’t think any of us had any idea what was in store for us. I know that I didn’t think that it could possibly be that bad. While the threats of bugs and other natural calamities hung over our heads, they seemed like possibilities that wouldn’t come true — not in our collection! I can’t even begin to say how wrong I was.
Life in the archive sometimes feels a little like being in an alternate reality where the ultimate law is Murphy’s law — everything that can go wrong will. And while working with acquisitions, this seemed doubly so. Just a few days in, we encountered our first problem — a box labeled with a sticky note: “Inactive mold. Caution. Do not open.” This was the first time I had encountered any of the problems we were warned about, and I probably should have heeded that like an omen. Just a few days later, the floodgates were open, on the most fitting day of the week, a Monday.
To start off our morning, we first encountered audiovisual decay of two types — vinegar syndrome and sticky shed. These occur when audiovisual materials begin to break down whether through their natural life span or through outside elements like increased humidity. This whole adventure started off when Miranda pulled a box off one of the shelves that reeked of vinegar, which we identified as vinegar syndrome.
Its actual scientific name? Acetate film base degradation. But after opening a box to the sharp, pungent smell almost like a rag soaked in a vinegar bath (at least this is how I described it to my mother to get my point across), you quickly learn to call it by its more common name — vinegar syndrome. This happens as film material degrades, shriveling up and falling apart, and quickly becoming irretrievable. These symptoms are generally accelerated by storage in warm and humid conditions. Once it starts, the film is gone quickly. Media prone to vinegar syndrome should be stored in cold and dry storage, and if you suspect vinegar syndrome might be onset, diagnose it quickly to save the material. Unfortunately, this particular tape was unsalvageable. Continue reading “When History Gets Dirty, You Mask Up! A Glance at Inventory in Three Perspectives: Part 2, Repeat Offenders (A Look at Mold, Decay, Rats, and Bugs)”