Damage Response and Planning for Your Collections at Church or at Home: Part 1

Nashville and surrounding environs have been hit hard in the recent floods. I have had more requests for individual assistance than for institutional assistance. I have never seen or heard of more family, or otherwise “special,” Bibles in need of salvage at one time. I have promised to put some links up so people can find sources of information useful to both plan for and react to disaster. I have some here, but first I a few tips that come from my experience and that I have found helpful:

  1. Plan. Like having insurance, an escape route, knowing your doctor’s phone number, etc., a disaster plan needs to be in place before disaster hits. In most cases, 48 hours is the outside time to take action if you wish to salvage things. In some cases, it is less. A good disaster plan includes prevention and reaction/salvage.
  2. In the past several weeks, I have discovered that this really needed saying. Review your plan; practice your plan; and make sure everyone who needs to know it does know your plan!!! The people who were on site at my shop were supposed to call me in an emergency, but did not. Our damage was not something that I would have known about had someone else in the building not informed me. Several people told me the same thing or something similar has happened to them. Others told me they had a plan, but had forgotten where some of the things needed to carry it out were. Ooops. We got stung.
  3. Have a Plan B. And prioritize. Make sure you decide¬† what is most important to get done, what resources you have available to do what tasks, and plan on what you will do if you can’t get it all done. Decide what you will do if things don’t work. For that matter, it can’t hurt to have a Plan C, Plan D, etc.
  4. Plan for your plan not working! Our local church has most of its records copied on microfilm backups and kept at our conference archives in case we cannot recover the originals. Many of my family records have been copied, digitized and spread around the family so there are copies. They won’t be the same as the originals, but they are better than nothing. We have also donated some items to archival repositories, both to make them available to others, and because we know the repositories have a better chance of preserving them than do we.
  5. Learn from your mistakes. Drill. See what happens. Get someone else to review your plan, and listen to their suggestions. (We did both, but still took a hit. It was, however, much less of a hit than it could have been otherwise.)
  6. Collaborate! Find out what resources you have that others need and what others have that you need. We have a list of available freezers in the area where we can freeze water damaged items. My wet-vac and fans have been borrowed by others, and I borrowed an extra dehumidifier I needed. I also took in some material to hold for others when there was no room for it elsewhere. I knew who had what before I needed it, and my colleagues knew what I had. We also share expertise. As soon as possible after the floods started, and before I started answering too many questions from those in need, I was on the phone to the Tennessee State Library and Archives to see if they would be available for conservation referrals (they were, of course,) and there were others who volunteered to help as needed. I talked to several folks that were connected through the Society of Tennessee Archivists. We made the most of available resources.
  7. Make a kit with emergency salvage supplies to keep on site, but have others at other places where you can reach them in a hurry. You will likely feel most foolish if your bucket of rescue materials floats away in a flood. The same is true of your disaster plan and contact numbers.
  8. Know who to call and make sure others know as well.
  9. Do take training. Do take training. Do take training.
  10. If it is really important, get a professional.
  11. Remember, mold is not your friend and it can be there when everything seems to be clean and dry.
  12. Vital!!! As important as it all is, as much as we value the things that preserve our history, remember: It’s just “stuff.” No matter what an item represents, even a religious item, it is just a piece of “stuff.” If you can’t save it, let it go. Don’t make it an idol. If folks are alive, rejoice! If you have to let “stuff” go to help others heal, let it go. Most of us can’t begin to imagine how much “stuff” we have lost over the years (okay, those of us who have been doing our family tree might be able to begin to feel it a bit; “Why didn’t someone write down that name?”,) or will loose in the future, without the world slowing down for a nanosecond.

Now for a few of my favorite conservation/disaster planning/disaster recovery links:

I am not a big one for promoting specific products, but the Heritage Emergency National Task Force site (FEMA and Heritage Preservation) has a neat little wheel and guide book that make designing basic disaster plans and responding to emergencies easy. It is not all one really needs, but is better than nothing and very easy to use. It is particularly useful for folks who are not trained in archives work. The wheel even has little magnets so it can be put on a refrigerator or metal file cabinet. I have used it for workshops, and ordered more to place in offices of non-archive staff who might end up being first responders. Their site is here. It has other information as well.

Salvage techniques including tables that make for easy quick reference, here and here.

Short guide to emergency drying procedures from the Library of Congress here.

Preservation leaflets for books and records here,  and for photos here. (There are also links to more leaflets by Northeastern Document Conservation Center.)

Emergency stabilization and conservation procedures here.

Salvage for films here.

Conservation subjects from National Archives and Records Administration here.

Minnesota Historical Society’s list of links for disaster recovery. (Dated, meaning all links may not be good, but a great resource in my opinion,) here.

The General Commission on Archives and History will help with developing disaster plans for the UMC. Be sure to check your local church, archives, museum or associations that include these for more resources.

The American Association for State and Local History, the Society of American Archivists, American Association of Museums, International Council of Museums, and the National Trust for Historic Preservation all have resources available for purchase.

Hope these are of service. We will post a bit o what we have had to deal with, including some pictures, soon. As requested and promised, we are working on some quick, “down-and-dirty-minimum-required-actions” tutorials for this blog using some actual materials. We will post more tips, and encourage others to do so through the comment section.

Jim

Tn Conf. Archivist

Jim Havron currently serves as archivist of the Tennessee Conference of the United Methodist Church. He holds a Masters in History and is a Certified Archivist, working in the public sector in addition to his work with the church. The opinions expressed, however, are his own, unless otherwise stated. His education and experience is in history with additional focus on public history, archives and museums, and with practice focusing on religious history, oral history, and user advocacy. His primary area of historical expertise is the creation, preservation, perpetuation, dissemination, and use of information and technology, as well as religious history. He can be reached at archivist@tnumc.org. He also blogs at other sites (his own and as guest or designated blogger,) under both his own name and pseudonyms.

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