September, 1996

Because many records systems in Alabama are still paper-based, outdated records can overload the active files if not removed from office space. Retention schedules approved by the State or Local Government Records Commission can reduce file growth, permitting short-term records to be legally destroyed. Other records must be preserved for years, or even permanently, in order to fulfill their disposition guidelines. Once a record is no longer referenced frequently (normally after about three years), it becomes "inactive" and is a candidate for low-cost, high-volume storage.

This leaflet offers general guidelines on the supplies, conditions, and procedures for storing inactive paper records so that they remain accessible for as long as legally required. It covers site selection, storage cartons and file folders, shelving, and environmental control. More specific recommendations for archives and records centers will appear in future leaflets. Meanwhile, agencies may contact the Government Records Division (334-242-4452) for copies of the publications cited on p. 4.

A. Selecting and Preparing a Storage Site

  • The storage site should be near enough to working areas for easy access to inactive records, but should not suffer from the same structural or environmental deficiencies found in office space. So that records can be easily transported, the site should be placed on the ground floor or have access to a reliable freight elevator. Cross-town storage areas should be located close to major roads.
  • For security reasons, the records storage site should not share space with other offices or agencies. If a building must be shared, the records area should have its own, controlled entrance and be separated from the other tenants by a firewall. There should be few doors or windows; and, to protect against theft and natural disasters, all windows should be bricked or boarded.
  • An architect or structural engineer should evaluate potential records storage areas. Concrete block construction is usually preferable. High ceilings maximize shelving capacity and lower costs; ceilings must be high enough that upper shelves are clear of light fixtures, ducts, and sprinkler pipes. Floors, which ideally should be concrete slabs, must be able to tolerate a minimum live floor load of 300 lbs. per square foot (another reason to locate on the ground floor).
  • The site should be free of obvious environmental hazards, such as overhanging water pipes or nearby furnaces. Construction should be fire-resistant, with sprinkler systems, fire detection systems, and burglar alarms. Avoid basements, which are prone to floods and chronic dampness. Records should not be subjected to rapid fluctuations of humidity and temperature.
  • Paint walls a light color to maximize reflected light. Be sure the area is clean. Remove all non-record items, such as construction materials, paint, oil or gasoline, fertilizer, animal feed, office supplies or equipment, party decorations, or evidence from court cases. Using records rooms for storing "junk" makes access to the records difficult and exposes them to fire or rodent infestation.

B. Controlling Climatic Conditions and Acid Migration

    Since about 1870, most paper used for public records has been manufactured from wood pulp. Because of the acids used in its production, such paper inevitably becomes yellowed and brittle, causing record information to be lost. Paper records will deteriorate within a few decades unless they are stored in a controlled environment and buffered against acid migration. Records with less than a 20-year retention period need only to be protected from rapid fluctuations in humidity and temperature. For archival or long-term records, agencies should attempt to meet the following standards:
  • Ideally, paper records should be stored at a temperature of 65 to 75 degrees, with a variation of no more than two degrees. This means that a building's climate-control system should never be turned off at night or over weekends if long-term records are kept there.
  • Relative humidity should remain at 45 to 55 percent, with a variation of no more than five percent. Such levels seldom occur naturally in Alabama, but portable dehumidifiers are relatively inexpensive. They should be employed in all areas where long-term records are contained.
  • Acid-free boxes and file folders should always be used for archival or long-term records. Although more expensive than non-acid-free containers, they last longer and help to buffer the records' natural acidity, slowing down deterioration. Wooden shelving--still found in many records storage rooms-- contains the same acids found in wood-pulp paper. These acids will quickly migrate into storage boxes, file folders, and records. As a temporary measure, wooden shelving may be finished with a coat of polyurethane to seal in acids, but metal shelving should be installed as soon as possible.

Ultimately, achieving optimum storage conditions may mean purchasing a new climate-control system and renovating storage areas. If money is a problem, try to maintain a stable environment until real improvements can be made.

C. Finding the Right Containers and Shelving

File folders may be either letter-sized (9-5/8" x 11-3/4") or legal-sized (9-5/8" x 14-3/4"). Various tab styles, papers, and colors are available. Colored folders help in dividing active files by year or subject, but they are not acid-free. Always use acid-free file folders (which cost about the same as others) for archival or long-term records, or whenever records are to be refoldered.

The standard records storage carton measures 15" x 10" x 12" (see Figure 1). It will accommodate both letter-and legal-sized folders and has a storage capacity of one cubic foot. Thus, the use of such cartons facilitates estimating records volume and storage requirements. Corrugated paper construction, with a test weight of 200-250 lbs., is generally standard. Packed boxes may weight 30-50 lbs., so hand openings are recommended for easier lifting. There are several styles of lids: flaps, one-piece, and detachable. The right choice depends on how frequently the records will be accessed; flap tops, for instance, are the cheapest but least durable. Acid-free cartons are of standard dimensions and construction, with detachable lids. Although considerably more expensive, they are necessary only for archival or long-term records. Records storage cartons should be clearly labeled (using standardized adhesive labels) to show records title, date of creation, scheduled retention period, and date of intended destruction.

Shelving. The standard shelf for records storage is 42" wide x 30" deep. Such shelves permit easy access to six standard-sized storage cartons, and more may be accommodated if access to them is infrequent. Thus, a seven-shelf unit (87" high) will normally hold 42 cubic feet of records, and a fourteen-shelf unit (if ceiling height permits) will hold 84. Another method is to place the shelves on 23" spacers, Figure 1. Standard Records Storage Carton permitting them to hold two layers of boxes 10" high. Always leave at least two feet of clearance between the ceiling and the top shelf, and remember that floors in the records storage area must be strong enough to tolerate a minimum load of 300 lbs. per square foot (for seven-shelf units).

The following specifications for "T and L" shelving are adapted from that in use at the ADAH State Records Center. Remember that these specifications are intended only as a sample, not a recommendation or requirement. The storage needs of individual agencies may vary greatly. For assistance in determining specifications or requirements, contact the ADAH Government Records Division.

FINISH To be baked enamel, all surfaces cleaned and phosphate-coated, and putty in color. Steel should be "pickled" to remove any metal burrs before enamel is applied.
SHELVES 20 to 22-gauge steel with front and rear box construction or equal support, such as rebars. Support system must provide added strength and rigidity to the shelves. All corners lapped and welded. Each shelf must be able to hold 500 lbs.
12 to 14-gauge, hot-rolled, one-piece construction. Minimum of four (4) clips per shelf.
UPRIGHTS "Ts" (two "L"-shaped offset angle posts back-to-back). Cold-rolled steel of guage specified, except for "L" on end. All uprights single piece. All posts punched on 1 to 1-1/2" centers with pairs of parallel slots 11/16" long, with one slot keyhole-shaped for bolting cross braces and accessories to uprights. Standard or heavy beaded posts may be used instead of "T&L" posts.
To consist of two (2) 13 to 16-guage, cold rolled, "Ts" 1-1/2" x 2-1/8" with two pairs of 1" 12-guage band cross braces on all uprights.
To consist of two (2) 13 to 16-guage, cold rolled, "Ts" 1-1/2" x 2-1/8" with 24 to 26-guage side sheet spot-welded on 8" centers to the closed uprights to be used at aisle ends.
1" 12-guage band cross braces. Minimum of two (2) pair of lateral cross braces per unit and two (2) pair of upright assembly cross braces on each upright.
20 to 22-guage steel and not less than 2-1/2" x 2-1/2" in size to be used where needed.
To consist of two (2) half-panels of 24-guage steel providing a total of three (3) vertical rows of holes on 1-1/2" centers for attachment to shelves with 14 to 18-guage back to shelf clips and with three (3) bolts at the top and bottom shelves.

Figure 2 shows a unit of standard metal shelving. Remember that state government agencies may use the ADAH State Records Center for storage of their records. Local government officials may wish to visit the counties and municipalities that conducted space renovation projects under the Local Government Historical Records Grant Program (1994-1995). Technical publications produced by the National Association of Government Archives and Records Administrators (NAGARA) offer detailed information on archives, records centers, environmental controls, and storage procedures generally. For copies, or for on-site assistance with your records storage problems, contact the ADAH Government Records Division at (334)242-4452.

Vendors of Archival and Records Center Supplies and Shelving

1825 Mt. Meigs Road
Montgomery, AL 36107
(334)263-9300 (supplies, shelving)
321 Northeastern Bypass
Montgomery, AL 36117
(334277-5644 (supplies)
234 Oxmoor Circle, Suite 202
Birmingham, AL 35209
(800)476-0822 (storage boxes)
P.O. Box 940
Rochester, NY 14603-0940
(800)828-6216 (archival supplies)
P.O. Box 101, 517 Main Street
Holyoke, MA 01041
(800)628-1912 (archival supplies)
1811 Britton Lane
Montgomery, AL 36106
(334)269-9136 (shelving)
2101 Tucker Industrial Road
Tucker, GA 30084
(800)221-6760 (shelving)
P.O. Box 1769
Alabaster, AL 35007-1769
(205)620-4116 (shelving)
P.O. Box 667
Aurora, IL 60507 (has local distributor)
(800)628-6489 (shelving)

Agencies are, of course, free to select other vendors; and inclusion on this list does not constitute endorsement by the Alabama Department of Archives and History.

For more information, or for on-site assistance with your records storage problems, please contact the ADAH Government Records Division, P.O. Box 300100, Montgomery, AL 36130-0100; telephone (334) 242-4452, FAX: (334)240-3433.

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Revised: 3/25/97