The themes for this week’s readings are preservation and disaster planning. The timing for these readings seems particularly apt, given the ongoing recovery efforts in areas assaulted by hurricanes in the past few weeks. It is with archives in those regions in mind that I read the texts for this week, and focused particularly on archival disaster planning, and on permanence as expanded upon in James O’Toole’s article, “On the Idea of Permanence.”
In reading the Northeast Document Conservation Center’s (NEDCC) resource on disaster planning, I found their template for developing such a plan useful. It is particularly useful, because when one goes to create a disaster plan this template provides a six-step set of directions on what to focus on and in what order. First an archives should state the lines of authority and kinds of disasters the plan accounts for, followed by what actions should be taken if advanced warning of an impending disaster is available. Third, an archives needs to figure out who the repository’s first responders should be depending on the emergency, the steps to be taken, and how staff will be notified. Fourth, one needs to outline the emergency procedures to be taken for each kind of disaster and emergency to be accounted for in the plan, including what should be done during the event, and what the procedures are for salvaging materials after the scene is safe. This step should also include a floor plan of the repository. The next step is how to get the institution back to typical operating order, and finally, one should include appendices of contact information for staff, floor and evacuation plans, emergency contacts, etc.
Fires, hurricanes, tornadoes, and manmade emergencies all have the potential to harm a repository and its collections, and these various disasters have increased probability depending on where the archives is located. The NEDCC provides an excellent guide on how to account for and attempt to prevent extensive damage to archival collections, but one cannot consider how to protect archival collections without acknowledging their material mortality. It is this mortality that James O’Toole addresses in his article, “On the Idea of Permanence,” in which he outlines the history of how humankind has considered the “permanence” of their records, and supplies his own suggestions on how to deal with “permanence.” O’Toole concludes, saying that the idea of permanence has changed considerably among archivists over centuries, which raises questions about the concept’s utility. It is worth clarifying that a material’s permanence refers to its continued existence in its original form, meaning that microfilmed or digitally scanned and reproductions detract value from the material. O’Toole’s article serves as a call to archivists to consider to what lengths they will go and what money they will spend to extend the lives of their materials, and how they can protect them. It is also a call to remember that, although we would like our materials to be undying vestiges of the past, this is not inherently true.
These readings all address protecting historical materials already held within archival collections, but as I read these I found myself wondering about those collections happened upon after they are already degraded by poor housing, mold, water damage. Restoration can certainly only go so far, and the physical original materials may need to be discarded, but if the content from these records can still be saved, ought archivists not still accession and guard that history? What inherent value is lost in excising the information from the original format? How does one determine the collection’s value prior to deciding whether to save the information without the physical original? If the original physical copies waste away, does the documentation and preservation of their content, prior to their disposal, carry equal value? Does it afford such collections a kind of afterlife?
 Ben Lindblom Patkus and Karen Motylewski, “Emergency Management: Disaster Planning,“ Northeast Document Conservation Center, 1993. https://www.nedcc.org/free-resources/preservation-leaflets/3.-emergency-management/3.3-disaster-planning. Accessed 10/12/17.
 James O’Toole, “On the Idea of Permanence,” American Archivist, Vol. 52, No. 1 (Winter, 1989): p. 23.