Alert! Some Damage in Tennessee Conference Archives!

Since the initial check of the archives in the early days of the flooding in Nashville, TN, there has been some damage. The archive is located on the second story of a multi-story building, so it was not suspected to sustain any further damage.

After speaking to a member of the church in whose building the repository is located, I realized that leaks had developed in the building. He told me that there had been leaking in an upstairs floor where there is an exercise room and he thought someone had said there were leaks elsewhere in the building. I hastened to the repository, opened the door, and realized that not only had moisture gotten into the room, but the AC had been turned off as well. The musty smell and the high temperature were unmistakable. Carpet on both sides of a set of shelves was wet. Some supplies were on the floor and had been pushed against the shelves, serving as siphons for the water. I turned the air back on, and proceeded to do what I could.

My disaster plan called for me contacting the landlord (church) to have their people made aware of the damage. I am working on this, but my contact numbers have not worked. The damage that has been done that requires immediate attention is all work I can do myself, so that part is not really an issue. I have stabilized the damaged portion of the collection. A wet-vac (kept on site) got what water was possible to suck up, and we’ve put down some absorbent material (kept on site) to take up more. I have a fan (kept on site) going and the documents that are damp are drying. We do not have a dehumidifier (missed that one for on site, but have 2 listed as available in the plan,) but I will obtain one within a day. The space is small enough that a residential unit should work. (Particularly if the air remains on.)

Fortunately the damage is not extensive. One item will need pressing. There are several items that have curled up in the humidity that will have to be dealt with, but that should not be an issue. Several older volumes were stored in containers that were themselves ruined, but the moisture had failed to reach more than the outside bindings of the volumes. Some papers were damp on the edges, as were some bound volumes, but they are drying nicely. A few published papers were fairly badly damaged, but we have other copies. No sign of mold, warping, or damage to writing on any of those items. Several cartons of supplies that were on the floor were ruined. Only a small handful of unique documents have been damaged at all, and they seem to be salvageable. (I moved an oil painting that had been left on the floor by someone away from the area into storage just two weeks ago, thank God.)

There is still work to do. The disaster plan mostly worked as it was supposed to, and salvage operations have gone well. Communication fell through with people not connected to the archives or under its control, though. The next stage will be to discuss with the appropriate people what needs to be done to repair more extensive damage in the form of wet carpet that might produce mold. We also need to discover why the archivist was not called when the occupants and owners of the building became aware that there were leaks and see that we get something in place to keep that from happening again. The books and documents will have to be removed from those shelves where the leak was and the shelves moved to be sure we are dry and mold free. Of course, the leak itself will need repair. We will once again have to discuss the need for leaving environmental controls in place. An evaluation of the incident will be submitted to the Commission on Archives and History as soon as possible.

We were lucky. Or blessed.

Jim Havron, C.A.

Archivist

Disaster Planning and Action for Your Historical Collections

In Tennessee and adjoining states, in general, and in the Nashville area in particular, we have just suffered major flooding and loss of property. We should first remember that we have had loss of life as well, and the bottom line on the property is that it is just “stuff.” Even if it is irreplaceable, it is still just stuff. Nothing is more valuable than the lives, so pray for those who have lost loved ones.

I still opened this post with the property issue because I have had some contacts from church folk who want to know what to do about their damaged records and historical items. Here is a preliminary list of responses to some questions.

  • Unfortunately, in some cases there will be little that I can do to help. In others, I will send (and have sent) basic preservation information or offer advice. I will be meeting with a couple of folks regarding their collections later in the week. I am willing to help as much as I can if time allows, but I do work full time and have other responsibilities as well. If you are trained in such things and able to help, please let me know. If you are in need of help, contact me via e-mail, archivist@tnumc.org.
  • If you can’t reach me, try to reach a trained archivist, curator, or conservationist immediately!!!! Time is vital! Chances are I will send you to someone with more training than I have anyway. I have had or conducted workshops and seminars, passed my conservation and preservation section on my certification exam, and have some practical experience, so I can help. If you can find someone better at it than me or I can direct you to a better authority, that will be in everyone’s best interest. Those who work day-to-day with this are the best. I consult them when I can myself, so I suspect you will wish to as well.
  • There are copies of suggested disaster plans and recovery methods used by the UMC available. I will try to get them to whomever needs them.
  • If you are a member of another denomination or confession, I will happily help if help if I can, but I also will try to put you in touch with your structure. They may know of resources available to you of which I am unaware. They will certainly know better than I what is the biggest priority in your collection based upon types of records kept, what is most valuable to your practices, and where there may be other copies.
  • Remember that anything that has been submerged or exposed to flood water should be treated as toxic!!!! Gloves, protective clothing, clean-up well afterward. Tetanus shots are in order if there are any scratches or open wounds, no matter how small the injury or contact.
  • COW-MMM, Clouds of Witnesses-Memory Ministry and Missions, will be refining its “Basket or Bag” training to help people prepare for personal disaster by learning to prioritize and prepare what records and documents one most needs to take along in an emergency and how to prepare to minimize damage to the rest. It will be available again soon. There will be more on this as we develop a larger staff, but if you know of someone in need of this, please contact me. (Basket or bag refers to getting things down to what will fit in a large handbag or a basket that can be carried in one hand. We work on that, steps than can be taken to help preserve other items or the history they represent, and developing a mindset that helps us let go of the rest. I say “us” because I’ve been there.)
  • I have spoken with a colleague who is an archivist for a large church connection and with whom I have worked on other projects in the past. We hope to work out plans for special workshops or training for local churches on disaster planning and recovery. The idea will be to pool resources, hopefully including experts from different fields and professionals from different confessions who work at multiple levels of organization (local church, diocese, convention, denomination, historical society, etc.) We are archivists and historians, so records and historical collections are our focus, but we may work out ways to present this in a larger context of disaster planning and recovery for life in general. More to come.
  • The Society of Tennessee Archivists has potential resources that may be accessed as well. There are professional conservators among our membership.

Stay tuned for updates. Email if you need to.

Jim

Jim Havron, MA, CA

Archivist- TN Conf. UMC

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