Across Virginia, circuit courts try to reverse an old way of preserving documents
Virginia is home to some of the nation’s oldest documents, squirreled away for centuries on the shelves of its 120 circuit courts.
But encasing many of the pages of the volumes stored on those shelves is an unlikely and unwelcome material: a form of plastic known as cellulose acetate that was used between the 1930s and 1990s to laminate aged and delicate documents. Once seen by archivists and conservators as a cutting-edge form of preservation, cellulose acetate lamination today is known to be a major threat to the conservation of documents because of the damage it causes over time.
“If not addressed now, records that managed to survive three centuries of wars, courthouse fires, and natural disasters will not survive another three centuries,” said a report from the Library of Virginia to the General Assembly this December.
So far, the Library of Virginia has found more than 1500 volumes of documents laminated with cellulose acetate in circuit court collections. Most of those are concentrated in the eastern part of the state, with especially large numbers in Richmond County on the Northern Neck (142 volumes), Essex County (91) and Chesapeake (80).
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