Conservation is the profession devoted to the preservation of cultural property for future use and access. Activities include examination, documentation, treatment, and preventive care, supported by research and education. It is estimated that more than 70% of records in the National Archives and Records Service of South Africa (NARSSA) require some form of intervention (whether curative or preventive). With an estimated 68 linear kilometres of paper records, this task appears to be impossible. However, with a well-coordinated intervention strategy, prioritization and injection of resources, the challenge can be reduced to a manageable level. Although the NARSSA boasts a refurbished conservation laboratory, staff shortage, obsolete equipment and lack of appropriate material is still a critical challenge.
The conservation laboratory works on individual items that are in need of repair or protection. This includes maps, photographic material, and books, bound and unbound archival records. Most of this work involves treatment procedures intended to return archival material to a known or assumed state, often through the addition of non-original material, and protection through re-housing in appropriate ready-made or specially designed boxes and enclosures. The National Archives Conservation Laboratory ensures that the item’s authenticity is not compromised by ensuring minimal intervention for any repair work done on any item.