Fires, Floods, and Earthquakes - Ensuring That Your Society's Information Will Last for Centuries

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Syllabus for class taught by M. Scott Simkins, Head Conservator, Family History Library; at the FGS Conference 2010

As a conservator, preserving records is my passion. In an effort to thoroughly cover this topic, I will approach it by covering what I call the “ings” of Preserving.

As we cover these topics, we will look at both the before and after scenarios of such disastrous events.

Strategy #1 - Handling

  • Use clean hands or gloves before a catastrophe. There are many debates held by conservators on this topic. I feel that IF you wear gloves, you lose that tactile feel, which tells you if you are being too rough with the delicate pages. If there is an object that I am confident I won’t drop with slippery cotton gloves on, I will lean on the side of wearing gloves. With paper-based materials, I almost always handle with freshly washed hands.
  • If it is after a disaster and items are wet, water proof gloves and water boots are a must when salvaging and sorting through the debris. You may need to come up with ways to lift and support valuable documents you want to save as you sort, such as place polypropylene sheets under maps and pedigrees before lifting, OR wrap the entire book shelf, and then move it to triage.

Strategy #2 - Documenting

  • Take “As Is,” current conditions photos. (NOTE: While turning pages, do not lick your fingers)
Keep a written record: (both before and after a disaster)
  • When it was found.
  • A description of the item.
  • The location it was found in.
  • The conditions it was kept at.
  • Any other interesting or noteworthy discoveries?

All this information could be helpful for the sake of history, (proof of how it existed), and for analysis toward proper conservation treatment.

Strategy #3 - Preparing

  • Remove extraneous materials: paper clips, bookmarks, etc.
  • Dust: carefully remove.
  • Mold: it better be valuable, and you better wear a mask and take it outdoors, since you likely don’t have a heavily filtered museum vacuum and fume hood at home.

Strategy #4 - Organizing

  • Before storing, it is a good idea to think about your documentation and consider how to arrange items so they won’t be lost or misidentified.
  • NOTE: Your society’s information saved for centuries won’t do much good if people can’t find or understand them.

Strategy #5 - Sharing

  • Share the original cautiously (too much handling and exposure is not good).
  • Share a facsimile or a copy (LOCKSS).
  • Generate other copies, and distribute them.
  • Utilize other media types and spread widely.
  • Save on external hard drives, flash drives, and share, share, share!

Strategy #6 - Storing

  • A box, within a box, within a box!
  • Keep artifacts away from light, especially sun light and fluorescent lights.
  • Store artifacts in an area where clean air can circulate.
  • Keep artifacts away from pipes, ac units, radiators, exterior walls, etc.
  • If possible, avoid extreme fluctuations in temperature and relative humidity.
  • RH control
-Repair leaks immediately.
-Favor baths or shorter showers; run bathroom fans.
-Vent clothes dryers and stove fans to the outside.
  • Don’t overheat the home in winter.
  • Containerize.
  • Boxes
  • Folders
  • Scrapbooks
  • Digital
  • Encapsulation
  • Purchasing archival supplies
-Gaylord Bros.—
-Metal Edge—

Strategy #6 - Mending

I preface this section by recommending you don’t mend your own items. That being said, and if you do–don’t do anything irreversible!

  • What not to do? Tapes–some glues, etc.
  • A discussion on paper repair
  • Web resources

Professional conservators:

  • If damage is severe, consult a professional conservator.
  • Most universities have conservators on staff.
  • Additionally, the AIC Web site has an option for locating local conservators as well as advice on how to select a conservator.
  • AIC—

Preservation Information