Hello, why is it wrong to laminate those documents?
This was asked in response to this post, methinks.
Just in case anyone is confused, lamination is NOT the same as encapsulation. Encapsulation seals the document in a sandwich of stable plastic sheets, but only the edges of the plastic are sealed and nothing is directly attached to the document during the process. Lamination adheres the plastic TO the object itself, via heat.
Lamination is a terrible thing to do to historical or important documents because….
- lamination is what we call an irreversible treatment because it is fundamentally impossible to remove without causing great risk to the item that was laminated (the plastic actually melts *into* the structure of the paper fibers themselves). Removing it often requires the use of solvents or other chemicals that can also damage the inks, the paper, or the conservator during treatment.
- lamination restricts further scientific analysis of the document by preventing immediate access to the document’s actual surface and inks
- the plastics used in lamination are themselves inherently unstable (cellulose acetate was a very popular choice when lamination was first considered an acceptable “preservation” method for documents) and over time can deteriorate and cause more damage to the documents within. As the lamination plastic breaks down, it can also produce harmful chemicals that will damage nearby, non-laminated, items stored next to the laminated item.
- the process of lamination itself can cause damage to the item, by solubilizing inks and causing them to become blurry, melting wax seals or other heat-sensitive attachments to the document, or even burning the paper itself
- it looks bad and has a negative effect on the aesthetic of the document- it gives a shiny surface to the document that is always there (unlike with encapsulation, where you can easily slip a document in and out of the plastic sleeve) and also makes it hard to get a good image during digitization
Here are some links to more examples of why lamination is no longer considered an acceptable preservation method for archival documents or anything else that we would like to keep around long-term in our collections.
- Guidelines for the Care of Works of Paper With Cellulose Acetate Lamination, published by the Department of Anthropology, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution. This goes into good detail both about how lamination was done, how it affects the paper, and the difficulties in removing it later.
- “Cellulose Acetate Lamination at the National Archives Part 1: The Louisiana Purchase Documents, a Case Study” by Susan Page. Book and Paper Group Annual (a specialty group journal associated with the American Institute for Conservation). Link opens a PDF.
- “Hold on and suck in, Miss Scarlett!” Removing a plastic corset from a manuscript” blog post by Rita Udina showing the process of removing plastic lamination from a document during a conservation treatment.
- “Being destroyed by laminate” NPR story about documents in the South Carolina state archives that were damaged by lamination.
In conclusion, I’ll say it again..
IF YOU LOVE IT, DON’T LAMINATE IT!