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.

Heritage Preservation Heritage Emergency National Task Force

Heritage Emergency National Task Force Information on Major Disasters

Heritage Emergency National Task Force Resources for Disaster Planning and Response

Library of Congress Preservation Response & Recovery Resources

Association for Library Collections & Technical Services, a division of the American Library Association, Disaster Preparedness Clearinghouse

American Institute for Conservation Disaster Response & Recovery Resource Center

Association of Moving Image Archivists: Disaster – First Actions: First Actions for Film, Tape and Discs

Video aids to film preservation: disaster planning and recovery

National Film & Sound Archive Australia Disaster Planning

National Film & Sound Archive Australia: Caring for audiovisual materials: first aid for water damage

National Film & Sound Archive Australia: Caring for audiovisual materials: first aid for fire damage

Disaster Recovery for Films in Flooded Areas (pdf) by Mick Newnham, Senior Researcher, Preservation and Technical Services Branch, National Film and Sound Archive

National Park Service Conserv-O-Gram Salvage of Water Damaged Collections (pdfs): Paper, Non-Paper Based, Objects, Natural History, Textiles

Specs Bros Disaster Recovery Checklist

Spec Bros Hurricane and Flood Recovery Info for Video and Audiotape (Magnetic tapes can survive flood exposure)

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