Rescuing The Archives

Susan Fletcher

Today I am thinking about the flooding in the Midwest. This morning I listened to this podcast from NPR’s “All Things Considered” about the rescue efforts to save the special collections library at the University of Iowa. In the interview Nancy Baker, the director of the university’s libraries, talks about putting out a call for volunteers to save rare manuscripts, photographs, and film material from the flood waters. The community responded in force and volunteers formed a human brigade to rescue the archives. My heart goes out to the museums, archives, and libraries that are facing this natural disaster. I am, however, heartened that so many people were willing to pitch in to save the collections.

Today at 2:30 our campus will undergo a brief power outage so the local utility company can work on the lines going to the new science building. A student assistant and I joked that we should have a “power outage drill” when we will go outside and enjoy the brilliant sunshine during this time. Then the conversation turned serious and we discussed actual disaster preparedness. We here in the DRC are currently revisiting our emergency plan. While the federal government continually reminds us as individuals to have a plan in case of a disaster, thinking about how to save a historical collection in such situations takes on a whole new level of complexity. Hearing about the events at the University of Iowa reminds me that we need to keep working on our plan. It also reminds me that planning for an emergency involves more than having a phone tree, knowing where the high ground is and being in contact with a good paper conservator. This case at the U of I shows me that the appeal to the human heart is perhaps more important than any of those things.

Put simply: we have some really great stuff here. Wonderful, irreplaceable things like the minute book of the first general assemblies, photographs of the Spurlings and Tomlinsons, and F.J. Lee’s preaching chart. All of these things are worth saving, both in the preservation sense and in the (God-forbid) case of a disaster. If you live in the Cleveland area, keep us in mind if we ever need your help. If you live elsewhere, remember your local museums, archives, libraries, even zoos and aquariums and be willing to pitch in during times of crisis. And in times of “normalcy,” you can help out by being a volunteer - museums and archives always need volunteers.

Today I am grateful for small things: that the creek behind my house hasn’t flooded its banks, for scheduled and controlled power outages, and for the brilliant blue sky on this lovely day in Tennessee.