When I first started at my current museum I was faced with 20,000 undocumented diacetate and nitrate negatives, most still in their original envelopes. I created a long range tiered plan to re-file, store, and catalog. The NHPRC (grant funding arm of the National Archives) provided a modest grant to at least duplicate the nitrate negatives onto polyester safety film (around 400). Due to the hazards of keeping nitrate negatives, the NHPRC did allow us to destroy them only after they were duplicated onto another film medium (still as negatives -though they required we produce two copies, a duplicate negative and a positive). The NHPRC wouldn’t award us the grant unless we could demonstrate that the original diacetate negatives would be preserved.
I was able to use matching funds from my insitituion to hire a cataloger for six months to start cataloging the negatives into our collections database. The negatives had previously been grouped into portraits and historic subject matter. The most important goal for us was to get the historic subject matter negatives cataloged first as these are used the most by researchers. We also purchased three refrigerators to begin storing our diaceate negatives in cold storage as part of the grant project.
Ten years later, we are still working on re-housing and cataloging the portraits. We haven’t begun to think about digitization yet, though no doubt the historic subjects will be the first to be digitized. It has been a long slow process, though the collection in its entirety has been a boon for researchers and local history authors.
If you have questions about conservation or duplication of negatives I strongly suggest the Northeast Document Conservation Center, the staff was extremely helpful and more than willing to give advice. I would be glad to talk about our project in more detail with you.