On May 1st each year the archives community pledges to do an activity aimed at preparing for emergency situations. In the past few decades, natural and man-made disasters have become increasingly common features in the news. These disasters threaten lives, and with damage to property, potentially threaten our historical collections.
This year May 1st lands on a Sunday when our library is closed. However, we still wanted to participate in this important day, even if it had to be planned a bit early. So we observed May Day in April this year and planned an activity with the students in the Archival Preservation course here at Wright State. What better way to participate in the May Day cause than to engage future archivists and museum curators in a staged surprise disaster in the archives? Not only was it a great refresher for me as an archivist, but it hopefully gave students a memorable hands-on experience to take with them.
Once the disaster was found during a site walk-through exercise, the students organized themselves into roles for clearing space for air drying, gathering supplies, hanging clothes line to clip photos and stronger leaflets, grabbing fans to increase air circulation, and removing items from the water logged area. My role was to document it all with the camera and to record information on current conditions, cause of the disaster, and our response. With the number of students and the amount of water damaged materials, they were able to air dry all of the items successfully. They did a great job, and the following week we evaluated the condition of the dried photographs, newspapers, books, discs, and negatives to see how they fared. All survived, if not a bit crinkled, but could easily be used again. I have to admit, our disaster was not like most disasters…the water was clean!
We have all heard the old saying that disasters are not a matter of if, but when. As we know, disasters can easily happen at home, too. On Sunday, I’ll be checking the bedroom closet where I keep my family’s archival treasures to make sure there are no signs of impending doom. I keep the doors open to circulate the air and the lights off. I will also be spending some time on Sunday getting my digital files off from my phone and camera, and backing the images up in four places (two off-site and two more at home). I hope you will join me in doing something on Sunday to protect your own archives! After that, I will be making up some May Day baskets with my boys and surprising some neighbors with another May Day tradition. Happy May Day everyone!