Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Fading in Time Archivists Work against Clock to Save Deteriorating Documents

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Fading in Time Archivists Work against Clock to Save Deteriorating Documents

Article excerpt

In 1833, a mob of Independence townsfolk stormed a printer's office just off the square and threw the press out a second-story window.

"Most pages were lost. There is very little evidence that they were ever here," says Ron Romig, head archivist at the RLDS Temple's Library-Archives. Independence is the world headquarters of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

This is the reason Romig and his colleagues labor away in back rooms to preserve and protect the great wealth of historical documents in archival institutions in Independence. "We're in the business of forever," Romig says. But paper is made with acid that eats away at itself and further continues a destructive path by migrating onto every other piece of paper it touches, with humidity, light and the human touch hastening the process. Using the latest methods of preservation, the archivists try to delay the eventual end. Each sheet of paper is separated by acid-free tissue, and filed in acid-free boxes. The boxes are shelved in warehouse style in rooms where the air is kept around 68 degrees and the humidity is less than 50 percent. The highest price ever paid for an original church document was $100,000. But Romig says church members are known for placing an inflated value on original Mormon documents. The RLDS Church is the second-largest of dozens of Mormon groups that trace their identity within Christianity to Joseph Smith, who founded the Mormon church in New York state in 1830. "A signed letter by Abraham Lincoln might sell for $500. A signed document by Joseph Smith in Utah would go for $2,000 to $3,000," he said. Documents are protected from theft by security cameras, and only a few have turned up missing, Romig said. "But human nature is such that a determined thief will find a way to do it," he said. The security system is less stringent at the Jackson County Historical Society. The eye of the camera is replaced by the ever-present and watchful eye of the staff, who bring out one folder of documents at a time. No food or drink is allowed, and only pens, pencils or a laptop computer can be used in the research room. …

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