I was recently sent this post by some friends on Facebook and, aside from the humour related to the passive/aggressive ‘share to show you care’ meme on Facebook, it reminded me that sometimes we have dragons in the archives. And by this, I mean the hazards that we have to manage in looking after our collections, rather than a large firebreathing lizard, or maps that may (or may not) show where dragons live. (http://www.maphist.nl/extra/herebedragons.html)
Some of the dragons are fairly obvious – nitrate film and negatives that are liable to spontaneous combustion and acetic acid fumes from disintegrating acetate films are the two that spring first to mind. Mould spores, too, may present hazards both to the collection and to the staff and users of any collection that has been affected. Museum collections will probably add a truckload of chemicals to the list, including formaldehyde. Some inks and printing processes use hazardous chemicals, and there may be residues of these on the records, which will require careful handling.
We also have samples of materials, often attached to files, which may give rise to concerns about handling the material. In my first archival collection, we were presented with hundreds of eucalyptus leaves and oil samples, not dangerous in themselves, but certainly adding to the combustibility of the collection. Mining files contain samples of minerals, while an industrial development file may contain samples of products that, in larger quantities, may be considered unsafe. And there is always the slim but ever present risk that some poor researcher will follow M. Michelet’s fate, and suffer from an exposure to anthrax (http://www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.php?id=7803).
Please let me know if you have any rules or procedures for handling hazards, including dragons, in your archives, that you would be willing to share either publicly or privately.