The Microspatula, by Jason Sylvestre
There are a number of things that I find cringe-worthy as an archivist: legal sized documents, scotch tape, paperclips, rusty staples, and unruly masses of paper. Although my favorite archival tool can’t address all of these, it does handle my most hated enemy, rusty staples, with ease. The micro-spatula is my go-to item for removing staples from tissue paper, plying papers clips from the page and unsticking stuck items. The micro-spatula is an 8” stainless steel tool with one rounded end and one tapered end. It is a versatile item to have on hand when dealing with delicate materials.
In many cases a regular staple remover works just fine, but there are times when it’s just too blunt an instrument. Older staples don’t often come in the standard size we’re used to today. The staples I’m talking about are half the size of today’s and are a breeding ground for rust. Using a staple remover on them can take a big chunk of the very paper you are trying to preserve. It is a job that requires more finesse, the kind only a micro-spatula can provide. The tapered end of the spatula slides right under the hooked end of the staple and lifts it with ease. Repeat on the other hooked end and the staple slides right out leaving only its original holes in the paper. The micro-spatula is equally adept at separating paper clips stuck to the page without tearing the paper.
Although it can be a risky procedure, a micro-spatula can also be used to separate items stuck together. If the items don’t come apart easily, it’s best not to force them. If stuck items appear to need only a little help separating, the narrow ends of the micro-spatula are great for sliding in between and coaxing them apart.
The micro-spatula has many more uses in conservation, but for me, staple removal is its primary function.
Just a few weeks ago, I had the great fortune to travel to Nome, Alaska with members of the Alaska State Historic Records Advisory Board (ASHRAB) to help teach a full-day workshop on caring for archival records. The whole experience was wonderful. From the moment we got off the plane, everyone we met was warm and welcoming, and we had a packed house for the workshop at Old St. Joe’s Hall with twenty or so engaged participants. I also relished the chance to explore Nome, where history is literally visible all over the landscape, with other historians, curators, and archivists who were equally geeking out over all the old gold dredges, the Cold War-era White Alice communications system site on Anvil Mountain, and the great exhibits at the Carrie M. McClain Memorial Museum. One of the workshop participants even invited me over to her house during the lunch break so that I could help her identify an odd “gold photograph” she and her husband had found in an old book in their collection (it turned out to be an engraving plate). It was a treat to visit a community where people so obviously care about the living history all around them.
I taught two sections of the day’s instruction sessions on “Care & Storage of Manuscript Materials” and “Identification, Care & Storage of Photographs in Archives.” There are PDFs of both of these presentations now available on the ASHRAB website: http://archives.alaska.gov/for_professionals/for_archives_professionals.html
Also check out the other presentations by my co-instructors, which cover a range of topics from film and sound recordings to grant-writing to historic preservation.
If you’re in need of a refresher in best practices for care of your materials or just curious, take a peek. And let me know if you have any questions — there are always a few things that get lost in translation between the in-person presentation and reading it on the screen!