Archival Storage of Paper
Courtesy of Gaylord
Documents, manuscripts, prints, drawings, pamphlets,
periodicals, newspapers, postcards and ephemera are typically made of paper—an
organic substance that is vulnerable to deterioration over time. All paper will
deteriorate if mistreated or stored improperly. Some types of paper are
particularly vulnerable—for example, the acidic wood-pulp paper that was
produced throughout much of the 19th and 20th centuries. Unlike earlier papers,
which were made of higher-quality fibers (commonly called rag papers), wood-pulp
papers contain natural impurities and byproducts of the manufacturing process
that break down to form acids in the presence of heat, light, and moisture in
the air. Pollutants in the air and/or direct contact with poor-quality storage
enclosures also cause discoloration and embrittlement of paper.
There are a number of steps that can be taken to preserve
vulnerable paper collections. These include providing a cool, dry, clean, dark,
and stable environment; protecting collections from disaster; handling
collections carefully; choosing appropriate storage furniture; and using
protective storage enclosures. Storage enclosures lessen the effects of
fluctuations in temperature and humidity and provide protection against abrasion
and handling, but they must be strong, durable, and chemically stable so that
they do not damage the materials they enclose.
The goal of this article is to provide the background
information necessary to select the most appropriate storage systems for flat
paper (storage of photographs is addressed in a later section of this
publication). It is oriented toward collectors, artists, archivists, and
librarians who are new to the field of preservation. No introduction however can
provide all the answers. If your collections are extensive, in poor condition,
or include works of art, it would be advisable to consult a professional
conservator. The American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic
Works (AIC) provides an online "Guide to Conservation Services" (at
that provides the names of conservators in your region. If you are unable to use
the online guide, contact AIC at 202-452-9545 or email
Selecting Storage Materials
To provide long-term protection, storage containers and
enclosures should be made of materials that are strong, durable, and chemically
stable. Enclosures and boxes should be tailored to the size, condition, and
anticipated use of the objects being enclosed.
The terms "archival" and "archival quality" are often
used to describe storage products, but these are non-technical terms that do
not, of themselves, convey any specifics about the suitability of these products
for use in preservation. It is important to evaluate the specific
characteristics of each product and to choose the appropriate type of product
for the item to be stored. For storage materials made from paper and/or board,
these characteristics include (but are not limited to) acidity, alkalinity, the
presence of lignin, fiber type, and adhesives used. Note that different
characteristics apply to plastic storage materials, which will be considered
Acidity and alkalinity are measured by pH using a logarithmic
scale of 0—14. The pH of storage materials made from paper and board should
ideally be in the 7—8.5 range.
Highly Acidic pH of Storage Materials
0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14
MOST ACIDIC NEUTRAL MOST ALKALINE
Paper to be used for storage enclosures should be acid-free.
Acid-free storage materials have a pH of 7.0 or higher. It is important to
realize that although acid-free materials are not acidic when they are produced,
they can become acidic over time. This can be due to internal impurities
introduced in manufacturing or to external impurities such as pollutants, which
degrade to produce acids. For this reason, an alkaline reserve or buffer is
often added to paper or board during manufacture to neutralize acids that may be
produced over time. This alkaline reserve is usually 2-3% calcium or magnesium
Most paper collections will require buffered enclosures.
While an alkaline buffer in storage enclosures is generally desirable, there are
a few types of collections that are sensitive to alkaline materials and should
therefore be stored in pH-neutral enclosures, alkaline. These include blueprints
and diazo reproductions, works of art with pigments that react to high pH, and
albums and collages with wool or silk components. Some photographs and textiles
may also be alkaline-sensitive.
Storage materials for paper objects should also be
lignin-free. Lignin is a natural component of the cell walls of plants and
trees. If it is not removed during manufacture, it can react with light and heat
to produce acids and darken paper. Lignin-free actually means low-lignin;
lignin-free materials usually have a maximum of 1% lignin. Other components of
paper or board enclosures that should be considered when determining their
suitability for long-term preservation include fiber
Please Note: Product type and adhesives used in the
enclosures. While cotton fiber makes the number references in most chemically
stable paper and board, it is possible to make high quality text and photos
along paper and board from wood pulp by using a chemical process that removes
impurities (the resulting pulp is usually termed chemical wood pulp or purified
wood pulp). Ground wood pulp (also known as mechanical wood pulp), on the other
hand, is always of poor quality and cannot be used to make suitable enclosures.
In addition, adhesives used in enclosures must not discolor, deteriorate, or
fail, and they should not discolor or damage adjacent materials.
The American National Standard for Permanence of Paper for
Publications and Documents in Libraries and Archives provides specifications for
paper that will last several hundred years under normal use. This standard is
intended for publishers and paper manufacturers, but can also be useful in
evaluating paper enclosures.
TYPES OF ENCLOSURES
Boxes: The boxboard used for most document boxes is 60mils or
points (pts.) thick (there are 1 000 points in an inch, so 60 pts. is .060
inches thick). Lighter weight stock (40 pt.) is sometimes used for small boxes.
Boxes are also available with a polyester film laminate coating to resist water
damage. All boxes should be sturdy enough to support the contents and have
reinforced corners and snug covers that prevent soil and pollutants from
Folder Stock: Acid-free folders of various sizes are
available in both buffered and non-buffered stock. The typical weight is 10-pt.
with 7- pt. available for lightweight items and 20-pt. for oversized maps and
Interleaving Material: Interleaving sheets are sometimes used
to protect paper objects in storage. Tissue, glassine, various types of paper;
and clear polyester film can be used for this purpose. Acid-free tissue is
available with or without an alkaline buffer, as is paper. Glassine is a smooth
translucent paper that is not abrasive and can generally be used with friable
media such as pastel or charcoal, but it is not very stable. Glassine is
acid-free and unbuffered, and should be replaced periodically if used. If
polyester film is used for interleaving, it should meet the criteria for safety
noted below, and it should not be used for items with friable media because of
its electrostatic charge.
Mat Board: When matting and framing works of art on paper,
conservation mounting/matting board (either a 100% cotton rag board or a
purified wood pulp board) must be used both for the backboard and the window
mat. For most materials, mat board should be acid-free, alkaline buffered, and
lignin-free—with the exception of the alkaline-sensitive materials mentioned
in this article. For these materials, an unbuffered 100% cotton rag board is
available. Mat board is available in two- and four-ply thickness. The heavier
weight is recommended for oversized documents that need additional support. For
hinges used to attach works of art to the backboard, Japanese paper (which is
lightweight, lignin-free, and long-fibered) and a starch-based paste are
Plastic: Clear plastic enclosures are particularly useful for
objects that receive continual handling, are too brittle to be handled
unprotected, or like postcards, must be browsed to view the images. As noted
above, artwork with friable media such as charcoal or pastel should never be
placed in plastic because static electricity can lift the image from its
support. Remember that plastic enclosures provide no protection from light. All
items in clear plastic enclosures should be placed in boxes for long- term
Polyester, polypropylene, and polyethylene are the three
types of plastic that are suitable for storage of paper objects. They should be
uncoated and free of additives. Uncoated polyester sold under the brand Melinex,
is recommended because it is very stable. It is used for various types of
envelopes, sleeves, and folders. Polyester also comes in rolls or pre-cut sheets
and is available in thicknesses of 1 to 5mil; 2 to 3mil is used for
average-sized documents, while oversized prints and maps need the extra support
of 4 to 5mil. Polypropylene is commonly used for containers. Polyethylene is
highly flexible but not as clear; it is used for sleeves and bags. Polyvinyl
chloride (PVC) enclosures, sometimes referred to as vinyl, are not acceptable
for use, because they are very unstable. Documents may also be encapsulated
between sheets of polyester using double-sided tape with a 1/4 margin between
the document and the tape. However, current research indicates that acidic paper
deteriorates more rapidly if sealed in polyester. It is advisable to place
sheets of buffered paper behind the documents before putting them in polyester,
or to consult a conservator about having them deacidified. An alternative to
encapsulation, especially suitable for oversized documents, is a folder with a
polyester cover sheet.
Standards for Materials
While there is no one standard that specifically governs
storage materials for paper objects, there are several standards that provide
helpful information for evaluating individual products. These include the
American National Standard for Permanence of Paper far Publications and
Documents in Libraries and Archives, ANSI/NISO Z39.48-l 992 (R2002); Guidelines
for In formation About Preservation Products, ANSI/NISO Z39.77-2001; and
Photography— Processed Photographic Materials—Photographic Activity Test for
Enclosure Materials, ISO 14523:1 999. The Photographic Activity Test (PAT) is a
standardized test that is used to determine whether enclosure materials are safe
to use with silver image photographs. Responsibility for adherence to standards
rests with the suppliers.
Once you have selected the appropriate storage materials, the
documents and other paper items should be prepared for storage. Always follow
proper handling procedures when working with collections. Using white cotton
gloves (71200) will protect items from dirt and oils on your hands. Do not eat
or drink around collections. When moving paper documents or art- works,
particularly brittle items, support the item carefully from below.
Remove extraneous materials—paper clips, rubber bands,
wrapping material, old folders, and any other material that is not
pertinent. If foreign matter (such as pressed flowers) must be saved as
artifactual evidence, place it in a separate enclosure.
Unfold and flatten papers wherever possible without
causing damage to the folds. Remove letters from envelopes. If the paper is
brittle or inflexible, it may need to be humidified before unfolding.
Consult a conservator for proper procedures. Prints, drawings, and extremely
fragile or valuable items should be treated by a conservator. Once materials
have been unfolded, remove surface soil with a soft brush. Isolate newsprint
because it is highly acidic and will stain adjacent paper. Newspaper
clippings can be replaced with photocopies on alkaline paper or placed into
a separate envelope. Fax copies are similarly unstable and should be
reproduced or isolated.
Note any badly damaged items—place them in individual
folders, and set them aside for professional conservation treatment. Do not
undertake any "first aid" unless you have received training and are
qualified to do so.
If it is necessary to place identifying information on
the object itself, use a No. 2 pencil and write on the verso or in the lower
right margin. Repeat the identification on storage folders and envelopes in
pencil or by applying typewritten labels. Never use ballpoint or felt-tip
pens that might stain or bleed. Never apply labels directly to a document or
work of art; labels are intended for boxes, folders, and other enclosures.
To the extent possible, store objects of similar size
and weight together. If heavy or bulky items are stored with lighter ones,
damage can occur from uneven pressure.
Label boxes with adequate information about their
contents. This curtails unnecessary browsing and rifling through the
Selecting Storage Furniture
Once paper objects have been placed in enclosures and boxes,
they must be stored in non-damaging furniture. Wood storage furniture is not
recommended because it can emit acids and other harmful substances. It is
possible to use a sealant on wood furniture, but this will not provide complete
protection, and the sealant itself may emit damaging vapors. Even if wood
shelves and drawers have been sealed, they must be lined with a barrier material
such as Marvelseal for additional protection.
Metal furniture with a baked enamel coating is acceptable for
preservation purposes, but powder-coated steel or anodized aluminum furniture is
preferred. As with enclosures, the choice of furniture will depend on the budget
and the types of materials in the collection.
Regardless of the type of furniture, it should be appropriate
for the types of collections to be stored in it. Open shelving is best for air
circulation, although closed cabinets are sometimes needed for security
purposes. Shelves should be adjustable, and collections should not protrude off
the shelves or be crowded together. The lowest shelf should be 4-6 inches off
the floor to reduce the chance of damage from flooding.
Specialized furniture that will allow oversize items to be
stored flat (e.g., map cases or shelving for oversize boxes should be used.)
The Storage Environment
A cool, dry, and stable storage environment is crucial to the
long-term preservation of paper collections. Heat and moisture accelerate the
chemical reactions that cause paper to deteriorate, and high moisture levels can
result in mold growth. Research has shown that lower temperatures and a lower
relative humidity will greatly extend the usable life of paper collections.
Maintaining a stable environment is also very important.
While boxes and storage enclosures can provide some protection against
short-term environmental fluctuations, they will not protect collections against
long-term changes in environmental conditions. Over time, climate fluctuations
can cause paper to expand and contract, leading to distortion and weakening of
the paper. Research has shown that large and frequent fluctuations— such as
those that occur at night and on weekends if climate control systems are turned
off or settings are altered—greatly accelerate paper deterioration.
There is no national standard for environmental conditions,
but the National Information Standards Organization (NISO) has issued a
technical report entitled Environmental Guidelines for the Storage of Paper
Records, which gives suggested values for temperature and relative humidity for
storage of paper records in libraries and archives. This report recommends a
temperature no higher than 70.2F and a relative humidity somewhere between 30%
and 50% that can be maintained consistently.
Some practical suggestions for keeping the environment
moderate and stable include: using portable dehumidifiers and air conditioning
units in summer to lower humidity; lowering heat levels in winter to prevent
humidity from becoming extremely low; and avoiding storage of collections in
basements or attics where climate extremes tend to occur. It is a good idea to
monitor the climate in storage areas to ensure that it remains moderate and
stable. Monitoring instruments ranging from humidity indicator cards to
hygrothermographs and data-loggers are available.
Selecting specific enclosures and boxes requires careful
consideration. Physical condition, size of collection, anticipated use, and
budget all play a part in the final choice. The second half of this section will
present several case studies to show how products available from Gaylord Bros.
can be used to solve the storage needs of paper collections.
CASE STUDY: DOCUMENTS
Scope: Documents, Manuscripts and Papers (letter or legal
Select appropriate primary enclosures that will protect
the contents and allow them to be removed for use without damage. The size
should be larger than the unfolded sheets so that edges don't protrude and
Papers that are strong, flexible, and of similar size can
be placed directly into acid-free folders. The number of items per folder
depends upon the thickness of the paper, the condition of the paper, and the
nature of the document. For example, a single folder can be used to house one
valuable print, 10—15 older manuscripts, or 50 modern office records.
Providing adequate protection is the primary concern. Folders come with and
without reinforced tabs, in letter or legal sizes with full, half, third or
fifth cut tabs.
Papers that are acidic fragile, brittle, or torn need additional support and
protection before placing them in folders. Options for protection include:
(a) Paper folders or slings. Insert the item into a paper
folder or envelope sling before placing it into a folder. Paper folders can also
be used to group papers instead of using staples or paper clips, which can be
(b) Individual polyester enclosures. These provide fragile or
small items with protection from handling while retaining visibility.
(c) Interleaving with 20 lb. buffered paper. This protects
documents from adjacent material and provides support during handling,
especially for oversized documents. Objects can be removed from folders by
lifting the larger interleaving sheets beneath them. Use interleaving paper,
envelopes, or folders Object to separate valuable documents from highly acidic
materials such as newsprint or replace newspaper clippings
Paper envelopes can also be used to organize collections.
Short or long side opening envelopes can house groups of papers or thin
pamphlets on sturdy paper. Envelopes must be large enough for items to be easily
inserted and removed without abrading the edges. If fragile papers or pamphlets
are to be stored in an envelope, they must first be placed in a paper folder or
envelope sling. Fragile papers or pamphlets need the added protection of a paper
folder or sling before being inserted into an envelope or folder. Be aware that
envelopes containing paper collections should not be interfiled with book
collections, because envelopes do not provide sufficient support for the items
stored inside. If pamphlets or groups of documents must be shelved with books
rather than in boxes, the items should be placed in pamphlet binders.
Groups of items can be placed into larger enclosures,
depending on the size of the collection, where it will be stored, and how it
will be used. Expanding folders are good for interim storage of collections that
are growing rapidly, such as children's artwork, or active correspondence.
Place folders and envelopes in sturdy boxes. Storage
boxes should be strong, have reinforced corners, and match the size of the
enclosures. To the extent possible, store items of similar size and weight
together. Heavy or bulky items can damage lighter items stored in the same
Upright storage in document cases is
generally recommended for archival collections. All folders in a box should
be the same size, and they should fit the size of the box. Folders must be
adequately supported so that documents don't sag and become distorted.
Folders should fill the box comfortably so that individual folders can be
easily removed. If there are not enough folders to fill a box, use an
adjustable spacer to hold the folders upright and prevent them from slipping
or sagging. Adjustable document spacers can be purchased and fitted to your
boxes. Dividers are also available to support and organize folders.
Flat storage in drop-front storage
boxes is sometimes appropriate, but also has some disadvantages. It gives
overall support, prevents damage from slumping, and protects edges of
brittle documents—but documents on the bottom of the box can be distorted
by pressure from the items above, particularly if items in the box are
different sizes and weights. If flat boxes are used, they should have
drop-front construction to make safe removal of folders easier. They should
be stacked no more than two high.
Another acceptable storage
alternative for paper documents is storage in a file cabinet with hanging
folders. Acid- and lignin-free buffered hanging folders are available.
Depending on how many items are in each folder, one or more folders may be
placed in each hanging folder.
Large collections of office records should be stored in
record storage cartons. These are available in buffered and unbuffered
board. The unbuffered cartons should be used only for short-term storage.
Cartons must be strong and easy to transport.
CASE STUDY: OVERSIZED DOCUMENTS
Scope: Documents, Papers, Maps, Posters and Ephemera (larger
than legal size).
Select primary enclosures that provide adequate support.
Folders are available in large sizes and should be made of heavier 10 or
20-pt. folder stock (instead of 7 or 10-pt.). Likewise, 4 mil polyester film
or a combination of 2-3 mil for the front sheet and 5 mil for the back sheet
should be used if oversized documents must be encapsulated. Sheets should be
sorted and grouped by size, if possible. Place no more than 10-12 sheets
into a folder. Remember that certain types of oversize documents (e.g.,
blueprints and diazo reproductions) will need acid-free rather than buffered
folders because of their sensitivity to alkalinity. If you buy both types of
folders, be sure they are clearly labeled and staff knows when to use each
type. Storage/display folders with polyester cover sheets allow the contents
to be viewed without damage and provide a backing of buffered material.
These are more expensive, but worth the investment if the oversized items
are fragile, valuable, or handled frequently. Remember, however that these
should not be used for artwork with friable media that may be lifted off the
support by the plastic.
For small collections, folders may be stored flat in
drop-front storage boxes. Because of their weight, boxes should be stored no
more than two high. Another option is the Ackley Filing System (EAAB) which
consists of corrugated boxes, file folders, L-sleeves and box labels, and is
designed for horizontal or vertical storage of large documents.
Large collections of oversized maps, posters, and
architectural drawings are best stored inside folders in metal flat files.
Shallow drawers 1-1/2 inches deep are preferable so that the folders on the
bottom are not crushed. As with storage in boxes, folders should be sized to
fit the drawer and all folders should be the same size.
Use rolled storage when items are too large for flat
files, as long as the items are flexible enough to withstand rolling and
unrolling. Although flat storage is always preferable, it is not always
possible. Rolled storage is a better alternative than sectioning maps or
creasing drawings. Use an acid-free tube that has a diameter of 3" or more
and is several inches longer than the largest item being rolled. Depending
upon their size and condition, 1-6 items can be wrapped around the outside
of a tube with interleaving between individual items. The image should face
the inside so that it is not exposed to light. The rolled document should be
wrapped on the outside with acid-free paper or polyester (MJTS) wider than
the document and secured with flat unbleached cotton tying tape (min 5/16"
wide). If the item is a blueprint, the wrapping paper or tissue should be
unbuffered. A roll storage box will provide added protection.
CASE STUDY: WORKS OF ART
The storage of prints and drawings is outside the scope of
this article. If your collection includes such work, your storage needs should
be reviewed by a conservator. In the interim, separate the items and follow
Store artwork flat. If possible, place each item in its
own folder or place interleaving paper between each work of art to protect
the surface. Remember that artwork with friable media such as charcoal or
pastel should never be placed in plastic because static electricity can lift
the image from its support. Place folders in clamshell or drop-front storage
For long-term storage of prints and drawings,
conservators recommend window mats. These should be stored flat in
reinforced boxes. Although the size of the individual works of art may vary,
they are often mounted in mats of consistent size and stored in flat storage
boxes just large enough to accommodate the mats comfortably and eliminate
any movement or shifting.
Matted artwork requires sturdy boxes that can support
the extra weight of the mats. Their inner depth should be only 1½ or 2
inches, again to keep the weight manageable.
CASE STUDY: PAMPHLETS
Scope: Single Signature Pamphlets and Small Booklets
Pamphlet binders with four-flap inner enclosures provide
maximum protection from abrasion when items are inserted and removed. Most
pamphlet binders can be stored upright, provided there is adequate support
from adjacent volumes.
Envelopes may also be used for pamphlets, but fragile
pamphlets require the protection of a paper folder or envelope sling before
being placed into the envelope. Choose envelopes that are large enough to
allow the pamphlet to be inserted and removed without damage. If items in
envelopes need to be shelved with books, use envelope storage binders or
Pocket Binders to provide support.
If envelope storage binders are not used, envelopes
should be stored in boxes. Use an adjustable spacer for partially filled
boxes. Pamphlet boxes with flip tops (or crocodile boxes) provide upright
storage. Average sized pamphlets can also be treated like documents and
placed in file folders in pamphlet boxes. This treatment is typically used
when the pamphlets are part of a larger archival collection.
Open pamphlet files are suitable for temporary storage
only. They allow easy retrieval, but do not provide adequate mechanical
support for long-term storage, nor do they protect items from light and
fluctuations in the environment.
CASE STUDY: PERIODICALS & NEWSPAPERS
Scope: Unbound Periodicals & Newspapers
Collections of periodicals and newspapers should be stored
flat in sturdy boxes because of their size and weight. The box depth should
be shallower for contents that are heavy. When in good condition, issues can
be placed directly into boxes. Polyester sleeves are available in large
format sizes for newspapers and will provide long-term protection in flat
storage. Adjustable spacers should be used to avoid slippage and sagging.
Single issues of average size may be treated as pamphlets
Thin and fragile items require additional protection. They
should be inserted into folders and envelopes before being put into boxes.
Polyethylene bags provide temporary protection, especially
when the items are subjected to excessive handling. Collectors and dealers
may find these particularly useful. However given the evidence that acidic
paper appears to deteriorate more rapidly when encapsulated, it is not
advisable to use sealed bags for permanent storage of acidic materials. If
comic books must be stored so that they can be viewed, polyethylene
envelopes with buffered stiffener boards are available.
Open pamphlet files may be used for short-term storage of
periodicals in good condition. The files allow easy retrieval, but they do
not provide adequate support for long-term storage, nor do they protect
periodicals without enclosures from light and dust.
CASE STUDY: EPHEMERA
Collections of paper ephemera provide the greatest challenge
of all. Often size varies, the paper stock is poor, and people want to see the
object itself. Common ephemera include postcards, greeting cards, brochures, and
CASE STUDY: BOOKS AND OTHER BOUND MATERIALS
Scope: Valuable and fragile books and other bound materials
that require protection.
Book bindings are intended to protect the textblock, but
sometimes the bindings themselves are so fragile or valuable that the books
themselves require protective enclosures. Examples include: rare books that need
additional protection against environmental pollution and light; fragile books
that cannot stand upright on a bookshelf without sustaining damage; brittle
books with loose pages; and damaged books that need temporary protection until a
conservator can review and treat them.
As more and more libraries rely on off-site storage, sturdy
enclosures are also needed to protect items in transit. Following are several
options for protecting books and other bound materials. Ideally, enclosures
should be custom-fit so that the items are not damaged by being jostled in the
boxes. If a custom-made box is not possible, acid-free tissue paper can be used
to fill the box around the volume.
Custom-sized rare book boxes provide maximum protection.
Gaylord carries a selection ranging from pre-scored folder stock enclosures
for lightweight books to sets of acid-free corrugated board that can be
scored to create rare book boxes that are custom fit for larger or heavier
books. A third alternative is a pre-made rare book clamshell storage box
that comes with a supply of unbuffered tissue to wrap the book and gold
title labels for the outside of the box.
Book Jackets provide effective protection for book
covers that are either valuable or vulnerable. Examples include books with
modern dust jackets in private collections, bindings that would be damaged
by fingerprints, and deteriorated leather bindings with "red rot"* that
could spread to adjacent books. Pre-made jacket covers of 2mil polyester
with acid-free paper backing would be suitable for modern books with dust
jackets. Custom-sized polyester jackets can be made for hardcover books from
Melinex®. Do not use glue to attach the jacket cover to your book. If you
use tape to attach the covers, apply from cover to cover. Do not apply tape
to the bookbinding itself.
Cut a strip of DuPont Polyester film to height of
textblock and 3 times textblock width plus book' thickness.
Wrap the film around book so that ends are even.
Using bone or Teflon folder, crease marks along
fore-edge of book covers. Make crease marks at edge of spine, making sure
DuPont film does not shift on book.
On a cutting mat or other soft surface, line ruler up
with dent marks and use folder to crease DuPont film, making sure creases
are parallel. Fold along lines using folder to ensure fold is sharp.
* Red rot is a disintegration of the leather into a red
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