6.1 Introduction A difference between implemented and intended preventive measures can be explained by lack of financial means and of training. Most literature underlines the necessity of an assessment of the execution of implemented measures - control of quality and efficiency - and of an assessment of staff training. There is no need for the introduction of new preventive measures if the available ones have not yet been properly implemented or executed.
6.2 Findings No new techniques were suggested in the list of preventive measures. Well-established programmes will be continued for a very long time and will therefore feature at the top of the list in all future questionnaires.
A special kind of disaster occurs during a war. The effects may be the same as those of fire, water and wind. The working conditions are totally different. It is very hard to develop adequate preventive measures; one can only prepare oneself for experiences in the past. An example from a report on preparation for war hazards:
`Shortly before the war of 1991 the archives started to protect archival materials, following the instructions issued by the Ministry of Culture. All existing inventories have been microfilmed; valuable documents have been put in safes and closets; packing materials for transport prepared; verification of employed persons indebted for transport in case of evacuation prepared; according with the The Hague Convention some members of staff obtained an identity card for continuation of work in the archives in case of war; marks were obtained for the protection of buildings and objects (flags and labels, in accordance with the The Hague Convention).'16 Forty years ago representatives of many governments met in The Hague (The Netherlands). After having reviewed the successes and failures of cultural protection in World War II and other recent armed conflicts, they resolved to create a new world system for the protection of the physical heritage of humanity in times of war and other armed conflict (Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict, The Hague, 1954). Sadly, 40 years later, less than half of the Member States of the United Nations have ratified and adopted as national law this quite fundamental instrument of international humanitarian law and, of those that have adopted it in the legal sense, only a very small number have taken effective steps to implement it - for example by making adequate peacetime preparations for protecting their heritage.17 Adequate preparations should not focus solely on the risks of war. In practice, almost every significant type of severe damage caused by war or terrorism can just as easily occur as the result of natural or civil disasters: fire, explosion leading to building collapse, flood through damaged roofs or disrupted drainage or looting from seriously damaged and unguarded repositories.
Every archival institution needs to reconsider its own policies and practical arrangements for the survival of both its collections and operations in the event of all kinds of disasters, whether during peace or war. At the same time, both institutions and individual professionals should be asking their governments to take far more seriously the provisions of the The Hague Convention: pressing for its adoption if it has not yet been ratified and for the development of effective protection programmes for their repositories and holdings in the event of every kind of disaster - natural, wartime or civil.
Furthermore, every single archival institution should examine in detail its own disaster preparedness plans regarding prevention, control, recovery and, last but not least, staff training. Assuming that learning by mistakes is a too costly procedure, it could be an idea to practice in advance on records which are going to be destroyed anyway.
Recent experience shows the necessity of this kind of preparedness. However, one should also be aware that `modern' kinds of warfare directed towards ethnic cleansing may welcome the identification of high ranking elements of the archival and cultural heritage for facilitating their annihilation. This represents another archivists' dilemma.
It seems to be easier to fight non-deliberate destruction through ignorance or carelessness, than deliberate destruction through war, arson and so forth.
7 THREATS TO ARCHIVE COLLECTIONS Lack of training, information and funding is considered traditionally as a major threat to the preservation of archive collections. Table 1986/7 gives some idea of the evolution of the budgets allocated to preservation and conservation in the 1980s. It would be good to take a fourth factor into consideration as a possible major threat: improper or inefficient use or management of available resources (skills, manpower, information, building, equipment, money, etc.).
Table 1986/7 Financial means
N = 214
Over the past 5/10 years, financial means allocated to preservation and conservation:
- remained unchanged
Training or lack of training (see table 1986/8) cannot be forecasted by interpreting the availability of formal education only. In many countries well established apprentice-systems result in fine teams of highly-skilled conservators. In many countries selections of holdings are well taken care of, despite little access to professional training, or even to professional literature and teaching aids.
Even if important measures have already been taken, given the annual `growth' of collections and the speed of decline of holdings already kept, conservation in the future will not only require more people using traditional techniques, but also the development of better appraisal and appropriate mass conservation techniques.18
Table 1986/8 Training in conservation
N = 216
Is the training provided in your own country for:
- academic staff
- technical staff
Training of staff, both archivists and technicians, does not score very high. However, in many cover letters, the subject has been raised as a `supra-institutional', national or even international responsibility, to be dealt with in co-operation with related professional institutions.
The tendency to rely too much on technology represents a threat of a different kind. Most professional literature tends to set standards for preservation, conservation, restoration, training, etc. All standards set ideal - in other words maximum - exigencies. In many, if not most, countries these standards cannot be met within a reasonable and foreseeable time span.
It should be possible to implement the use of standards step by step, taking into account environmental, political and professional factors influencing archive management all over the world. Completion of all steps equalling implementation of that standard in one big step. Each of those successive steps should relate to the preceding and the following ones. Setting a new step should be possible with a minimum waste of previous capital investment. The hazards one will meet when walking step by step should be outlined as well.
For instance, with regard to the improvement of storage conditions, how should one proceed when the financial means or materials needed are scarce, too scarce? Where should one start and what order should be followed: improvement of overall hygienic conditions, improving the balance of relative humidity and temperature, repacking in acid-free boxes first and in acid-free folders later or vice versa? How does one start if one's budget does not allow one big operation attacking and solving all problems in one sweep?
An example of a different kind is that promoting the use of refrigerators for the storage of master microforms in countries having a faulty electricity supply is not very helpful. A blueprint of a vault making maximum use of natural cooling would be preferable. However, more likely in this case, the best technical solution for proper storage of master microforms would be the `internationalization' of storage capacity. Why not send master microforms to co-operating repositories equipped with reliable cold storage facilities?
Unfortunately most literature sets maximum standards, which are out of the reach of many archivists and archives services and they are thereby possibly counterproductive. Standards should also present alternatives that would assist professional archivists and conservators to cope better with possibilities which are offered to them.
Another threat is posed by the lack of access to information. For example, a broad debate on a subject like requirements for fire detection and fire-fighting equipment might change the attitude of many archivists towards the introduction of sprinkler systems.19 `Water is always used by fire-fighting personnel to extinguish fires. Archivists ... have often been convinced that water was as destructive to archives and books as fire.
This view is still held by many custodians in Europe. However, archivists ... in North America accept and, in most cases, enthusiastically endorse the use of automatic sprinkler systems as an integral part of their fire protection system. North American archivists tend to accept the thesis that wet records can be recovered, but burned records cannot....
It is important ... to understand that, unless there is a specialized fire-extinguishing system to control the development and growth of a fire, responding fire-fighting forces would have no choice but to attack the fire with fire-hoses. In many facilities the quantity of paper fuel involved is such that ... (one) would have to fight the fire from a distance under very adverse conditions. This would normally force ... (the) use (of) heavy hose streams having the characteristics of a hydraulic ram. Wide and forceful disruption of the records storage arrangement would be a normal effect of efforts to prevent total destruction. The fire-fighters may also take actions that disrupt and damage records that are not burning in order to reach the actual seat of the fire. While properly constructed fire walls would assist a fire-department in limiting the size of a fire, all of the records within the fire area would probably be seriously affected by either fire or water from the high pressure streams of both.'20 Another serious threat is the use of untested materials for repair by trained technicians in the absence of tested materials. Some materials, techniques and equipment have done more harm than good to documents.21 A threat of a different nature is posed by the ever increasing quantity of records to be retained permanently by archive repositories. Possibly one will have to accept that the size of the documentary legacy may prove to be prohibitive for its total conservation in its real format and to be prohibitive for an effective access to the information it contains. If the size of our documentary heritage already kept in archive repositories proves to be prohibitive for its dissemination in its original format, this is even more so for the larger quantity of records not yet selected for permanent retention. Despite the fact that foreseeable technological developments will come to assist in preserving the records and disseminating them, one may assume that the increase in budgets will very seldom match the increase in holdings.
A special, and not the least important, threat is caused by the activities of contractors in buildings. Those activities in themselves may be directed towards an improvement of the facilities. However, they sometimes result in fires or floods. The introduction of a `contractors code of practice' is advisable.
8 CATEGORIES OF ENDANGERED ARCHIVE COLLECTIONS One may divide categories of dangers to archives in several ways. One of the options is a division into two obvious ones: nature-related and man-related dangers. Nature-related and most man-related causes - like fire and water, neglect and use - tend to be non-discriminating. Some man-related causes - like unauthorized destruction, cleansing and removal by occupying forces - are discriminating.
This first group of non-discriminating dangers threatens all records equally. However, some kinds of records are more vulnerable than others. This group of dangers is a well known foe of archives and an enemy not easily to be defeated.
The second group of discriminating dangers is of a very mixed nature and can be disguised in forms of the first group. Specifically endangered record collections can be identified best after the attack resulting in damage or destruction. A related danger is `classification'. Records are too easily declared classified and not open for consultation because of the origin of the document, the origin of the researcher or the nature of the government. Modern `civil war' tends to result in moving residents to other areas and in destroying records containing information on the origin of the population or on property of any kind. Civil registration, cadastral, notarial records, etc., are deliberately destroyed, not because they are archives, but in order to destroy proof of evidence and to complete `ethnic cleansing'.
A second category of archives possibly in danger are those moved by occupying forces, for instance as a result of disputed land claims. `Migrated' archives, removed to other countries, either as a trophy or in order to provide secure storage, will often suffer from neglect. Although in some instances these records may be well kept, from a professional and ethical point of view archivists should try to convince their superiors that they should be returned to their rightful custodians. In the meantime, they should receive the same treatment as other records and thus be part of the backlog of the institution and be open for consultation by any researcher.
A third possibly endangered category is formed by record collections related to minorities of any kind. Some private institutions do their best to save endangered collections relating to minorities. However, these rescue operations will be successfully completed only after returning those collections as soon as the circumstances in the respective area have been normalised. Keeping records out of context endangers keeping and using records as well.
A fourth category is formed by collections of materials having a short life span, materials mostly readable with the help of `machines' only, e.g. sound-tapes, films, glass-negatives, digitized forms, etc. They are endangered not only because of their life span, but also because of the difficult task of maintaining machines necessary for transforming `data' into `information'.
A category of a different kind is formed by legislation and access. Archives not kept under a proper legal system and archives that are not accessible are under a permanent threat of not only neglect but also wilful, unauthorized destruction. Another category of a different kind is formed by political systems that do not accept any kind of professional control of record keeping by professional archivists. Under those systems all records are under a permanent threat of both neglect and wilful, unauthorized destruction.
9 SAFEGUARDING THE ARCHIVAL HERITAGE At the Gardone Riviera Conference, one of the participants made an interesting remark: `preservation is a question of management, not of repairing.'22 Good archive keeping implies the proper organization of an archives office. Proper organization implies proper storage, security, handling, conservation, etc. and, if applicable, reformatting. One has to set priorities and to evaluate the cost benefits of different types of action, be it passive preservation, active conservation or reformatting, against the importance of collections. The simplest preservation measures, good handling etc., are by far the cheapest. That is why there is a lot we can do.
The common way of preserving collections all over the world is by reformatting (microfilming) the collections in priority order, after having listed them, and then keeping the originals unused but in a stable condition. Damaged documents receive, if possible, conservation treatment. Again, if possible, documents are put in folders, folders in boxes, boxes in the stacks. Those who can afford air-conditioning provide an optimal climate for permanent storage. Master copies of microforms, tapes and digitized forms are more and more frequently stored in off-site repositories. Many archivists are working along these lines; implicitly or explicitly. If the quantities to be considered are small, there is no real problem. A few hundred reels of microfilm are sufficient and most repair shops do a good job. Reality, however, is different. What can one do with hundreds, thousands of files, each containing tens or hundreds of sheets of paper, all filled with text and drawings, some of them torn and soiled, others brittle and so on? What is to be done with the backlog? Current activities are well aimed and often cost-effective, but the level of activities is disproportionate in relation to the extent of the problem.
Traditional conservation techniques may be sufficient for coping with several kinds of mechanical, biological and chemical damage, but one should consider any irreversible technique to be a potential danger. For example, 1996 respondents reported major damage due to chemical treatment of records in the past. Even the use of lamination for stabilizing archive materials is questioned and could well turn out to be a counter-productive preservation process. However, for documents nearing the no-touch line, it may be the only solution for preservation for the time being.
On their own all archivists are minor players in safeguarding the elements of the "Memory of the World" entrusted to them. Two possible outcomes of a world-wide performance analysis of the role of archive services could be a recommendation to globalize technical services of workshops and storage facilities. Many barriers will have to be dismantled. Globalizing intellectual access has been an odd idea. What else, however, will be the outcome of the introduction of electronic formats and electronic finding aids? One cannot cut communication lines in order to keep the electronic data on-site. Globalizing storage facilities and technical services also sounds odd, but the profession should not be split into two sections of ducks, sitting - potentially lame - ones and flying ones. Each duck is responsible for her or his part of the total archival heritage, belonging to all people, living all over the world, now and in time to come.
Co-operation at institutional, national and international levels, in conjunction with libraries and museums, would be one of the instruments for a better preservation of the "Memory of the World". Progress in modern technology may assist in coping with some of the problems posed by both natural and man-made hazards and by the ever increasing quantity of archives to be kept.