44th Annual Meeting – Saving and Preserving Family and Local History from Natural Disasters: Addressing Challenges from the Recent Earthquakes in Japan

This panel, presenting on the response to the tsunami in Japan in 2011, was composed of Masashi Amano, Kazuko Hioki, Tomoko Yasuda Ishimaru and Daishi Yoshihara. Drs. Amano and Yoshihara are both historians, and Ms. Yasuda is a conservator in private practice in Tokyo. Ms. Hioki is a conservator in the United States, and special thanks goes to her for her excellent translation during the question and answer sessions.
The presentations brought to light a number of interesting cultural differences that may be surprising to an audience from North America. The majority of public records (according to Dr. Yoshihara, the number may be as much as 90%) are held privately, rather than my public or governmental institution. This means that when a disaster occurs, it is often difficult to find out who is a stakeholder, what records are involved, or even where those records are. Often, historic sites contain records, but just as often records, historical and modern, can be found in attics and in community centers. This would include tax information, birth and death records and legal documents.
The prevalence of natural disasters in Japan makes creates another important difference.it It si very difficult for insurance companies, a very conservative business in Japan, to provide coverage in the event of a natural disaster. This means that public institutions and private collections cannot rely on the insurance industry to pay for recovery companies, and as a result, recovery companies have a much reduced presence in Japan. The end result is that, when natural disasters occur, Japanese individuals and institutions cannot rely on the same emergency response structure that we in North America.
The presenters spoke about their work helping disaster recovery after the 2011 tsunami, but much of their presentations focused on Shiryo-net (the Miyagi chapter which responded to the tsunami has an english language blog). Shiryo-net is a grassroots organization of historians and volunteers who respond to disasters specifically to deal with conservation issues, such as finding out where in a town records may be kept, rescuing those records, and performing triage treatment whenever possible. Shiryo-net formed after the Hanshin-Awaji earthquake in 1995, and has grown to 24 regional chapters across Japan.
Since its inception, Shiryo-net has focused on saving those 90% of documents that are not in museums, libraries and archives. Its activities are entirely funded by membership dues and donations. The organization first came into contact with conservation on a more formal basis in the wake of a flood in Hyogo prefecture in 2004. During this disaster, they were able to work with conservators to develop first aid treatments that could be taught easily to volunteers, and the difficulties they encountered encouraged them to host workshops and become a center of volunteer training for conservation volunteers. When another flood occurred in Hyogo in 2009, the response was much quicker, and the level of care given to documents was much better. Shiryo-net is now an experienced organization, and focuses on leadership training and volunteer education as well as disaster response.
The second major focus of the talks given by the presenters was on Shiryo-net’s response to the 2011 earthquake and Tsunami. The obvious difficulties of working in a disaster area were present, as were the difficulties of working with a large, non-professional force. Over the course of the recovery, Shiryo-net worked with over 5,000 volunteers, and had to develop techniques for training, supplying and managing such a large and ever-changing population. Because of the scale and scope of the disaster, salvage operations were ongoing as much as three years after the disaster. Since the tsunami, Shiryo-net has rescued more 70,000 items, with at least 50,00 items still in storage waiting to be treated.
The presentation was informative and engaging. It was interesting to hear about the different challenges faced in a different country, and how those challenges have been met or overcome. I would like to thank the presenters again for being so forthcoming with their talk materials as I prepared this post.

44th Annual Meeting – Book and Paper Wiki Session, May 15th

The chairs of the Book and Paper Wiki group, Evan Knight, Katherine Kelly, and Denise Stockman, first spoke about the group and its progress on the wiki up to this point. They stressed how valuable the AIC Meeting wiki sessions have been, as they have allowed the wiki coordinators to touch base with their colleagues at least once a year.  The group expressed gratitude for our interest and attendance.
The group has focused on making the wiki more useful and accessible to members of the conservation community. Our wiki is only as good as the engagement of its volunteers, and they recognize that one of their chief roles as coordinators was to reduce any barriers to entry for potential contributors. They pointed specifically to the centralization of instructions within the wiki in the form of the new contributors toolbox, which nicely consolidates hints, guidelines and suggestions.
The Book and Paper Wiki Group also aims to move away from the model of the Paper Conservation Catalog (PCC), and towards a wiki model.  They expect to change the structure and tone of the wiki to make it a more collaborative document. Knight, Kelly, and Stockman emphasized this idea of an evolving resource in their first major question to the larger community of conservators: how much do we alter the PCC as the profession moves forward and makes it out-of-date? They expressed a great respect for the PCC and its many knowledgeable authors, and knew that it was a key reference for many in our profession.
The audience had a lively discussion about this question. They hoped, as one might expect in our field, that the PCC should be preserved in its original form, as it remains a useful record of past practice in our profession. Others offered the opinion that the Wiki should be a current document, and that it would be frustrating to find an entry for a particular technique, only to discover that approach had fallen out of practice. Several solutions were proposed that might allow the wiki to be up-to-date, while still keeping the old PCC intact. The first was to offer the PCC as a pdf on the wiki for anyone to download. Another suggestion was to include a section in the wiki on techniques that had been superseded by more effective measures, complete with references to papers that signaled the change in approach.
The other major question the coordinators had for the community concerned standardizing the language of bookbinding and conservation. Several sources for controlled vocabulary were suggested, and there was discussion about whether they could be adapted to suit our purposes.  Audience members thought that any reasonable source would do, because what the field needed was a lively discussion about vocabulary, and it was agreed that starting from scratch would be counter-productive. Doing something, in short, was better than doing nothing, and the coordinators concurred.
Ultimately, the wiki is making great progress, but needs more contributors. It is moving away from the model of the various conservation catalogues, and towards a more collaborative model of professional information sharing. The wiki offers us the option to begin to standardize our language within our narrow group, but also the possibility to help standardize the way we communicate within our entire profession. Finally, there are a number of things the chairs would like the larger community to send in if possible, including: links for bibliographic references, book and paper conservation tips (for example from AIC tips sessions), and information on materials and tools.