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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Service Reduction at Tennessee Conference Archives

Lack of parking has created an access issue for Archives and Library staff, most all of whom have full-time jobs apart from their work at the archives. The time spent in extra travel, coupled with the inability to access the archives for transfer of supplies and collection material, has caused us to have to greatly reduce the amount of service we can provide potential patrons.

We regret to say that, although there will still be times when we can make appointments to allow patrons to access the collections, the majority of the time research will have to be handled by our very limited reference service staff. (At present, this consists of a single volunteer with full-time employment elsewhere and a family.)  The same is true of processing that needs to be done to collections. We will continue to take in records and other documents that are appropriate as long as we can provide appropriate preservation and conservation, but it may be some time before these collections are made available to the public.

We hope the day will come soon that we can remedy this situation, but in the meantime, we ask your patience.

Feel free to contact the Conference Archivist, Jim Havron, with any questions at archivist@tnumc.org

Jim Havron CA, MA

Some Methodist Documents Stolen From Drew Recovered!

Some of a number of letters written by John and Charles Wesley that were stolen from the Methodist archives at Drew University have been recovered. The letters, along with other documents of historical and intrinsic value, were found in the room of a student who had worked with the Library/Archives as part of a work study program. Further examination of the collection showed more documents missing, but the speed in which these were recovered gives hope that the others will also be found and returned.

The details of the story may be found here.

Though I May Be Found Wanting, Let Me Not Be Found Clueless

I would like all to consider the effects on both our study of history and attempts to preserve it that have been brought about by what “appears” to a very rapid change in technology and its use in business, government, education, and occasionally, even the church. I have, over the years, read many books and attended many seminars on growing the church, defining mission, preserving our past and integrating our past into our present worship. One thing I have often heard, and in fact it was recently reinforced by a statement made by my current pastor at a meeting, is that the church is about 30 years behind when it comes to utilizing technology. I find this to obviously be true in spirit, if not provably so in the numerical value.

The odd thing for me about that statement, is that so many meetings I have attended at the church on all levels (I serve, locally, at conference level and at jurisdictional level) seem to be almost identical to those I attend in my professional organizations, at least with regards to technology. At one meeting of a board of professional archivists, a friend and mentor, Jay, said “Jim is trying to drag us kicking and screaming into the 21st Century.” I responded, “No, I am trying to drag us kicking and screaming into the 20th Century! The 21st would be biting off more than I can chew.”

For those of us involved or interested in the stuff of history within the church, we should remember that it is necessary to at least be aware of the current means by which information is created, stored and accessed if we wish to be able to preserve it, understand it, or use it in our research. As Tennessee Conference Archivist, I regularly explain to people that the information they want for their research does not exist in our collections, at least not in an accessible format. They, in their turn, regularly fail to understand why not. Why did people not save the records in a manner in which they could later be accessed? Why are the records in a form one cannot understand? What does this document mean? (This last usually a question about the group that created the document, the structure of the organization, how it held its meetings, kept its minutes, communicated, etc.) The ability to preserve, interpret and make information available to researchers of the future requires that we have some understanding of the answers to these same questions regarding records created today.

Does your church use PowerPoint, video, recorded audio in its service? Does it have a Website, a listserve, use Twitter, Facebook, or other social media? How do you save e-mail correspondence for future generations? Do you distribute your newsletter by e-mail, put it on the Web, send messages by phone tree? I know that there are those who communicate by Skype, send files via fttp protocols, and create documents collaboratively through online software such as Google Docs (no endorsement should be implied here.) Thank goodness there are people who choose to put their ministries online in podcasts, through Webcasts and on Youtube, where people who would never have otherwise been exposed to them can now be. The question is, will anyone looking back on these days know about it?

Many churches are not interested in the mindset of those who use such media. The mindset is there, however. Although a relative few people have joined our TN Methodist History social network and those who view this blog are not legion, more than half of those who contact me with reference questions expect me to be able to use a digital index to find the records they request and expect me to be able to transfer the desired records into some form that they can readily use with my computer. Easily a third dos not understand why our records are not online and available for them to search for themselves. They do not understand why the records are not available in a way that they desire.

Of course, many churches do not use the new technologies that are available, mistaking them for just tools that someone designed to provide different means of communication where the present ones are just fine, rather than seeing them as new media and tools designed because of the new ways that people choose to communicate and form relationships. If you are with one of these churches, I encourage you to examine some of these new methods and look for ways in which your folk might choose to use them. By that, I don’t just mean look at, for example, Facebook or Second Life, and try to think of how you can effectively use them to spread your message, though that may certainly be a good idea (and one I have advocated elsewhere.) No, I mean also look at them and get a feeling for what they are, so that, should someone else choose to use them, you will be familiar with and to some degree understand them.

As I posted earlier, I was thrilled to have a chance to see a representation of an archival document in Second Life a few weeks back. This may not be the way that relationship and communication will go, but I have little doubt that during my professional life I will have to deal with some type of document that requires my understanding what virtual interactive technology is. I will likely be found wanting, but hope not to be found clueless.

Jim

TN Conf. Archivist

Jim Havron currently serves as archivist of the Tennessee Conference of the United Methodist Church. His education and experience is in history with additional focus on public history, archives and museums, and with research and practice focusing on religious history, oral history, user advocacy and where the craft of history meets technology. He can be reached at archivist@tnumc.org

Collection Care Workshop in Cookville

This is one of a series of workshops being conducted by the State Museum and State Library and Archives. Great stuff that, if not grant funded, would cost some $$ to attend. Tell your friends about it.

It will be Wed. Aug 5, 2009 from 9:30-3:30 at TN Tech’s Volpe Library

Advance registration is required as space is limited.

Contact: Heather.adkins@tennessee.gov (615-741-2997) or strawberry.luck@tennessee.gov (615-741-2692)

Here is the info and registration PDF form:    Cookville_Workshop

Possible Change in On-Site Access Hours for Tennessee Conference UMC Archives

The bad news is there have been staff and hour reductions at my “real” job. The Nashville Public Library Special Collections Division has had funding reduced (along with all of NPL, of course) and will close on Mondays. My hours have not been reduced, I will have to work longer days.

The good (somewhat less bad than it could be?) news is that I was not among those cut (good from my perspective, pray for the others though) and the Nashville Public Library Special Collections Division will be closed on Mondays.

The change in hours in my “real” job will allow me to be available more often on Mondays. My hours have not been decreased, so I will still have to do things on Mondays that I used to do in the mornings or evenings of other days, but will no longer have the time for on those days. Additionally, I will be working more weekends at my “real” job.

That being said, I will have larger blocks of time in which to work at the archives. Please note that this does not mean the archives will be regularly open on Mondays or that everytime I am there I will be able to allow folks in to do research. On site research will still be by appointment only for the time being. (We will still do our best to answer research questions by phone, e-mail, social network, USPS, etc.)  It does mean, however, that there will be more opportunities to make appointments. I also hope to be able to use some of that time to recruit and train staff that may be able to provide services at other times in the future.

Stay tuned as things develop.

Jim
TN Conf. Archivist