by Marcia Spicer
Plus: two ways you can prepare for the future to conclude National Preparedness Month
The summer of 2022 has been a season of unexpected flooding for many areas, including our own here in St. Louis, Missouri. Many of our friends and neighbors experienced damage and loss—placing this particular natural disaster at the top of our minds. The horror story of a collection’s loss without a digital backup is all too common.
When historical collections are caught in flooding, the resulting damage can be extreme and may require long term and expensive remediation, which may not fix everything destroyed by the rising waters.
Damage from flooding can come from a few different means:
Rainfall and leaks.
Water that comes from above.
Water—not the fresh kind—that backs up from overloaded drainage systems.
Once waters recede, humid conditions are ideal for mold growth, but not for protecting collections.
Beyond just getting wet, collections that remain underwater sustain new and different types of damage.
When thinking about this kind of damage, it is important to look to the experts for appropriate response. There are new techniques you may not know about that could save what would otherwise be unsalvageable. If it is within what is feasible for your family or organization, we strongly recommend calling a conservator and/or a professional disaster recovery service specializing in historical materials. They will be able to help you take quick action by making suggestions based on the specific materials in your collection, as well as determining the specific types of damage the floodwaters may have inflicted.
If you are in the St. Louis area, consider giving paper conservator Noah Smutz a call.
- Move all still-dry collection pieces to a safer location. Separating them from wet or drying material can protect undamaged items from contamination.
- Move wet material out of remaining floodwater, leaks, and drips.
- Begin to dry materials.
- If you cannot start this process immediately: Consider freezing your collection for later drying. Most household freezers can be used for this purpose for short periods of time.
- Control temperature and relative humidity in working and storage areas. Utilize fans and air flow.
Sign up for an educational program like Preservation 101.Even if you are not new to your collection or to preservation, there is value here. The Northeast Document Conservation Center (NEDCC) offers the Preservation 101 course which walks participants through assessments, emergency preparedness, and preservation programs. Other organizations offer learning opportunities as well. Take a look around, and sign up.
Consider pursuing digitization as a backup for your collection.In many ways, there is no substitute for the real thing. But when considering the damage a collection can sustain from natural disasters like flooding, a digital backup is far better than nothing.