MayDay! Saving Our Archives


MayDay, Saving Our Heritage, May 1, 2014

May 1st every year is designated as MayDay, a grassroots effort promoted by Heritage Preservation and the Society of American Archivists, to make May 1st a day to do something significant to protect archival collections in the event of a disaster.  The emphasis is to do something simple, whether it is getting boxes off the floor, conducting a walk-through of archival facilities to look for potential hazards, reviewing the disaster plan, updating contact information, inventorying emergency supplies, or conducting a disaster response exercise.  We all know disasters come with little or no warning, and it is easy to become complacent.  Disaster planning isn’t one of the “fires” we absolutely have to put out during the day, until the day that disaster hits home.

A few weeks ago, students in my Archival Preservation course participated in a hands-on salvage of wet archival materials in a mock minor disaster in the archives.  Since it was a minor disaster with several students ready and available to help in the response, they were able to air dry all the materials with impressive results.  While some of the photographs and paper exhibited rippling after they were dried, the majority of the materials, ranging from audio tape cassettes, photographs, books, clippings, negatives, and correspondence, looked amazing for what they had been through, and were very usable after they dried.

Salvage exercise.

Salvaging wet materials during a course exercise.

Disaster Response exercise

Clipping photographs to a clothes line to air dry during a disaster response exercise.

Disaster Response Exercise

Air Drying materials during a mock disaster response.

Whether you are a professional archivist, a volunteer in an archives, a student, or a person who cares for your own archival family treasures, please make May Day your day to do something simple in protecting your archival treasures.  For a list of MayDay activities suggested by the Society of American Archivist for archival institutions, see .

Several helpful disaster planning and recovery resources are available online.  Here are just a couple:

Heritage Preservation at
Here you will find resources for protecting archival collections and family treasures, including videos on disaster response.  The well known Emergency Response and Salvage Wheel is available as a FREE app from their website at

Northeast Document Conservation Center. Disaster Planning leaflet at and the free online disaster planning tool and web template, D-Plan, at


About Toni Vanden Bos

I manage preservation efforts in our department, which includes implementing our preservation plan, monitoring environment, assessing collection conditions, improving housing, prioritizing reformatting of vulnerable materials, and developing and implementing the electronic records program with the Collections Manager. I also catalog our manuscript collections, and manage the gift books and journals. Additionally, I arrange and describe collections, provide reference assistance, create exhibits, give presentations, and assist with special events as needed.
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