Here is a seemingly innocent rubber band…stretchy, circular, typically used to hold things together…normal office supply right?

Nothing to see here, nothing to see here!

OR IS IT! dun, dun, duh!

Scene courtesy of the film I Wake Up Screaming. Which I do, when I have nightmares about rubber bands. **see below**
**My face**

Rubber bands are not innocent binders of materials, but some of the worst offenders in damaging artifacts. They crack and crumble, they break and dry out…but worst, they stain and stick.

Photograph courtesy of The Letters Project
{ transcribing war correspondence }, March 15, 2013. Notice the discoloration of the paper, the crumbled band leaving pieces behind how it sticks to the paper.

Made from organic materials, the emulsion of a rubber tree, rubber bands are not manufactured for a long life span. If exposed to the elements (meaning sun and air) and stretched for long periods, they can deteriorate as quickly as a year. The damage caused, only increases over time.

My first archival project (wow, it was over a decade ago…I’m old) was collecting metadata from court records dating back to the 1800s. It was fascinating work, but I vividly remember gently peeling off the brittle rubber bands. Each case was wrapped in two or three bands, rust colored and breaking. I’ll never forget the coarse feel on my finger tips and the absolute terror that gripped me. I was so afraid of tearing the papers! Some were tremendously attached to the cases that even several minutes of careful picking, did nothing. I was left with rubber band fragments all over the paperwork and feeling like a failure (don’t worry about me though, my supervisor was amazing and told me that preservation is not always exact. The main point is to try to extent the life of historical records). Remember that Reader.

Luckily, this rubber band I found while processing was not at all deteriorated (whew!) and so far rubber bands have been a rarity in this collection. Yet, I feel compelled dear Reader not to trust the simplicity of rubber bands for your long-term storage needs (temporary only, ok?). They cause irreversible damage to collections! Leave that archival enemy behind bars, in solitary confinement or at least in your desk drawer.

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