Are you ready? Safeguarding your field recordings
This column is inspired by a workshop we recently attended on Protecting Cultural Collections: Disaster Prevention, Preparedness, Response & Recovery sponsored by the California Preservation Program.
The secondary inspiration for this column is this story from the October 26, 2011 Baltimore Sun, to quote, “… waters from Tropical Storm Lee rose 2 feet in [Hazel Chung-Hood’s] backyard [and] ruined most of the notes, recordings and papers belonging to her late husband, well-known author and ethnomusicology pioneer Mantle Hood, that she had planned to donate to the University of California, Los Angeles.”
What can you do to protect your fieldwork?
For Californians in particular, basic earthquake preparedness is a good place to start. Secure tabletop objects (desktop computers, external hard drives). Anchor furniture (including bookcases).
If your concern is flooding, consider, at the least, keeping items off the floor and elevating them. More often than not, when we go to pick up an archival collection that is being donated, it is being stored in the attic, basement or garage. These are all prime locations for potential water damage, mold, mildew, pests, etc.
Mudslides/landslides, tsunamis, wildfires, severe weather of any type could all be potential disasters. Check the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) website for information about what to do before, during and after an emergency.
Archives, libraries and other cultural heritage institutions have preparedness plans in place, as well as emergency response scenarios.
Recovering Eyebeam’s archive
Washing and Handling Wet Film by Mick Newnham, Senior Researcher, Preservation and Technical Services Branch, National Film & Sound Archive Australia
In addition to basic preservation steps, make sure there are multiple copies of both your field recordings and notes in multiple places (yes, this includes digital files). Consider donating your materials to an archive or special collection, which ensures the materials will be there not only for your use, but for the future, for both scholars and community members.
And if the worst happens? Here are some links that could assist you in rescuing your fieldwork.
Disaster Recovery for Films in Flooded Areas (pdf) by Mick Newnham, Senior Researcher, Preservation and Technical Services Branch, National Film and Sound Archive