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May 24, 2017

How to Preserve Collections in Times of Disaster

The Museum of Belize under the National Institute of Culture and History culminated a two-day workshop entitled, Disaster Preparedness and Recovery for Collections.  Its objective is to empower collectors, custodians, and museum operators to be strategically prepared in the face of disaster, and to recover as quickly as possible, with minimal damage to collections.  It is the third of a series of workshops to train local professionals in basic conservation techniques and object handling. News Five’s Duane Moody was at the House of Culture today and files this report.

 

Duane Moody, Reporting

Books, documents, fabrics, antique cutleries, ceramics as well as wood and glass products—for many are priceless as they tell the country’s history and cultural heritage. For the third year in a row, the Museum of Belize has organized a national workshop on the preservation of invaluable collections. The two-day seminar brought together key professionals from across the country.

 

Carla Rosado

Carla Rosado, Membership & Marketing Officer, Museum of Belize

“This year the workshop is focused on disaster preparedness, prevention and recovery of your collections.  When I say collections, I mean any objects that are collected for their historical and/or cultural value. We have persons here from small museums, from the library service, from the Belize Archives and each person’s collections are different. Some have collections of old documents, some of collections of cultural implements, ceramics or family heirlooms. The main idea here is to protect your collections from disasters—whether it be hurricanes floods or fires.”

 

With the assistance from the Science Museum of Minnesota, the participants will return to their respective organization and implement safety measures for disaster and how to recover any collection that may have been damaged during a natural phenomenon.

 

Rebecca Newberry

Rebecca Newberry, Conservator, Science Museum of Minnesota

“To understand how a disaster may impact their collection and their institution and plan for it, prepare for it and then be able to respond. If you have a plan and a preparation in place, then when a disaster happens, you can just jump right in and recover from it.”

 

Duane Moody

“What are some of the key things that they need to have?”

 

Rebecca Newberry

“So they need to plan ahead. They need to make sure that their building and facility is in good condition. So part of planning for a disaster is ensuring that your roof doesn’t leak, because you don’t find that out until you have a storm. It’s understanding what the materials are made of and how they are going to respond to a fire or to a flood or to a hurricane. And then learning how to handle them very carefully and dry them and recover them in the future. You may need to take a book for example…if it gets completely wet, the paper is very fragile; it may get moldy very quickly because it is very humid here. So wrapping that in some butcher paper or some wax paper and freezing it until you can treat it in the future is probably the best option.”

 

The workshop was an excellent opportunity for some professionals in the local field to share experiences and coping methods in disaster management, as it relates to collectibles of various materials.

 

Marvin Pook

Marvin Pook, Conservator, Belize Archives

“We for example have a fairly new renovated building in relation to the archives and museums and libraries, what we do is share our knowledge in how you go about preparing. So we are not just keeping the information for ourselves, but we are having a networking of that information. Not all information has been digitized; most of the collection is still on paper at the Archives, at the libraries; information at the museum, there are still artifacts on display. They are being prepared in catalogues for the different institutions and there are different ways of how you go about preserving that information—be it digital or paper-wise.”

 

During today’s session, a simulation was conducted at the House of Culture in Belize City, where the participants recovered damaged items.

 

Sharon Pitts

Sharon Pitts, Chair, Belize Association of Museums

“There has to be communication, there has to be rapid assessment after that response; basic knowhow and understanding of what is assigned to whom and who will function as whom. From the very policemen we are roping in because we have to avoid looting and preservation of our grounds and found objects and then we have to record, because before we start moving or interfacing with anything we have to document. You might see your photographs and your books, your picture albums damaged in the aftermath of a storm and the first thing is to go rush and grab them. But we have learnt that sometimes you have to leave them for up to forty-eight hours. Of course in all this you have to prioritize: you look at your wood, your ceramics, your metals, your paper; you have to see by way of what’s delicate and how you proceed.”

 

Duane Moody for News Five.

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