Most offices still must retain a lot of paper. Even if a company has switched to all-digital, almost certainly stacked on metal shelving in a warehouse or a closet somewhere are paper records from the pre-digital days kept as back-ups. Keeping these paper records safe and secure requires some planning.
There are certain simple things you can do that will help keep these files from deteriorating and minimize the risk of damage or loss.
Ensure You Store Documents, Onsite or Offsite, Correctly
If you must keep paper, store it correctly. Use acid-free storage devices such as plastic sleeves or containers made without polyvinylchloride.
Store your paper records in a climate controlled, dry area with limited exposure to light.
For High-Value Paper Use Archival Storage
Archival storage keeps paper records in pristine condition almost indefinitely. Museums use archival storage materials to preserve valuable old texts, parchment, and historical documents.
Acid and Lignin
Specialty manufacturers construct archival boxes out of acid and lignin-free materials.
Anything with a pH of between 7-8.5 is acid-free.
Acid can quickly destroy paper. Acid-free paper can become acidic over time without treatment.
Lignin refers to the naturally occurring acid in wood pulp produced during the paper-making process.
Acid and lignin-free paper can last up to 200 years without any further treatment.
To prevent the acid-free paper from becoming acidic over time, companies can purchase alkaline buffer enclosures, dividers, and folders to place between pages and keep the pH balances within the neutral range.
This is especially important with storing photographs or images. Photographs deteriorate rapidly due to the high acidic content of the print paper used during the first 150 years of photography.
If you have photos along with paper records, separate the picture from the paper when storing each.
The acid on your hands can eventually quicken the decomposition process in paper.
To prevent this, you can enclose your paper records in clear plastic. Particular types of plastic such as polyester, polypropylene, and polyethylene work well although every few years you should replace the plastic.
Clear mylar, a more costly type of plastic, protects paper for twice as long or longer than other plastics do.
Keep Paper Files Organized
Unlike digital records, you can’t simply use a drop-down menu and change the sorting method or use the search box to find a needed document.
Managers need to have policies in place that keep files organized.
Follow a standard system. Catalogue your files by type and date. Make one person, more if you generate a lot of paper weekly, responsible for maintaining the paper files and storing them in a filing cabinet such as our Lateral File Cabinets which can accommodate letter or legal hanging files.
Determine Whether You Need the Files
Speak with your accountant and lawyer and consult your company by-laws. If the law, company policies, or some other regulation does not require you to keep copies, shred or burn them.
Consider Offsite Storage
There is no need for paper files to take up valuable office space in your building. Consider sending your files to an offsite facility. If your files are not organized, have someone do so before relocating them.
Digitizing older paper files not only frees up office space but eliminates the costs of off-site storage. Many companies specialize in digitizing files, or you can opt to make it an internal project.
Digitizing files, even if you keep the paper originals, furnishes you with an excellent safety mechanism in the event of a fire or flood.
The need to preserve paper records likely will remain a requirement for some businesses like accountants, or law enforcement for the foreseeable future.
Give some thought as to how to organize your paper records and purchase the right storage materials that will ensure they are available and usable when you need them.