National Archives of the Netherlands (Ministry of Education, Culture and Science)

Preserving archives on Ghana. Internship of a PRAAD conservation worker

During the months of April, May and June of 2011 Mrs. Mary Efua Yanney from the Public Records and Archives Administration Department (PRAAD, the national archives of Ghana) is doing an internship at the Nationaal Archief. At the department of Conservation she is working on the archive Nederlandse Bezittingen aan de Kuste van Guinea to prepare it for digitizing. This archive is a very valuable source on Dutch-Ghanaian mutual history, but it was in a very bad condition. To preserve this archive it is being restored and prepared for digitizing.

Mrs. Mary Efua Yanney tells about her experiences

"On the 4th of April I arrived in the Netherlands to begin working on files for Ghana when it was known as 'Guinea' at the Nationaal Archief. On the 5th of April at 09.00 a.m. I was introduced to the staff and my supervisor by name Maartje Ubbels. After the introduction, work started with a file in very bad condition, the papers sticked together, ink corrosion, brittle and it was difficult to handle but with the help of my supervisor we were able to treat these papers.

Most of the files with red labels are to be handled with care like a 'mother taking care of a baby' in order not to harm the papers more than before. Some papers are impossible to read, because of damage by moisture, as I have already mentioned in the beginning. Those without red labels are stable and working on them does not take much time. With the help of the Japanese paper and the Klucel 5% paste I am able to prepare the papers for digitization which will be done later.

I was taught how to prepare the Klucel paste of 5% by my supervisor with 50 grams of Klucel G and 1000 ml of ethanol. This glue we are using to paste the Japanese papers on the documents at one side of the paper. This is a new method I have learned from here to restore papers.
In my second development was the testing of moulds on documents of which two samples were taken for the experiments to see if the mould will spread on the papers, by using the DG-18 Agar-agar, which was put in the fridge for 5 days. The result of the experiment was 'not active'. If it had been active then the records would be at risk.The file numbers 15, 25, 27, 1056 were so instable and moist that for each of this file I used between three and five days on working on them. It was the first time I used the ironing board, and other tools to flatten the folds, as we in Ghana normally use water to relax the paper.

My observation about this work is that even the ones in bad condition became stable after restoration, only that the words are difficult to read because of the severe ink corrosion. With this experience it is a big challenge for me to go back home (Ghana) and teach my colleagues.
By the end of my first week, I was able to treat 37 files. Up to today I am able to treat 210 files.
What I would say is though, I have learnt so much that will help me back home if only the necessary materials were available. I am grateful to the Heritage Project Management and the staff of the Nationaal Archief of the Netherlands for the possibility to work here."