44th Annual Meeting, Photographic Materials, Tuesday, May 17, Separation Anxiety: Kiss Your Acetate Goodbye! – by Nicole Christie and Cindy Colford.

In a presentation related to the Disaster theme of the conference, speakers Colford and Christie spoke of the recovery of flood damaged photographic collections of the Peterboro Municipal Archives, in Ontario in 2004. The area wide disaster created such demands on affected infrastructure that the response began two weeks after the peak flood, which led to a decision to freeze all the of works, including glass plates and film negatives as other methods of drying had not been possible. The PMA participated in a CCI risk assessment which reported back with recommendations to keep all film stabilized in freezers for continued cold storage, and to identify cellulose acetate negatives as a specific priority for treatment due to their autocatalytic behavior, leading to eventual change and loss of values.
The authors, looking to Pavelka & Naipavel-Heidushke’s paper on successful treatment and separation of gelatin image layer from acetate support, called out Pavelka’s suggestion that insurance companies might provide financial assistance for treatment in their coverage. Following the protocol suggested in the article, the authors proceeded and achieved inconsistent results. They noted the process per negative could take up to ninety minutes, resulting in only four negatives treated over two days, They cited concerns of prolonged exposure of the negative to solvents, yet found it hard to keep solvent from evaporating, which could induce curl and tensions while drying. A new question developed, what was the difference between the article’s case studies vs. theirs? An obvious variable was the fact that these items had been frozen. Whether or not this actually factored into the negatives’ behavior. Consulting further with Greg Hill (currently of the Canadian Conservation Institute) & Gayle McIntyre (Sir Sandford Fleming College), the protocol was revised to include the following steps, which helped increase the reliability of the method across different negatives:

Silver gelatin pellicle being separated from acetate support
Silver gelatin pellicle being separated from acetate support

1. Remove material by cutting away some of the lip/edge of the negative to allow ingress of solvent
2. Prewet the negative using sequential solvents
3. Use visual and tactile clues to determine the moment of separation (need slide 3.1, 3.2.) not a fixed amount of time
4. If the gelatin is still disrupted, reshape while it is still wetted using gentle prodding (with  brushes on silicon release Mylar*) to lay flat before drying completely.  The unsupported pellicle, thin as tissue, can be left to release final residues of solvent in a non-stick drying pack in fume hood to offgas.
(More images of these steps available in the downloadable Kiss Your Acetate Goodbye images of layer separation, pdf file kindly provided by the speakers.)
The images, now supported on Mylar sheets, were digitized, and the storage solution after treatment includes use of polypropylene sleeves in a clamshell binder. In an added benefit, the items are no longer taking up space in cold storage. The authors report that after eight years, the images appear unchanged in these conditions. While having a positive outcome, the speakers note that is still a lengthy process involving time and material costs, requiring trained professionals. This technique may not be a catchall for all collections, but for prioritized ones, it can be effective management tool for severely decaying negatives.
*Additional note: Silicon tip tools may also be useful here. See related content from 2016 BPG Tips Session on Silicon Shapers, as found in art supply stores today among the brush selections for working thick paints, in the BPG wiki.

44th Annual Meeting- Electronic Media Session- Recovering the Eyebeam Collection following Superstorm Sandy- by Karen Van Malssen

This presentation highlighted the risks to important collections that are located outside of traditional museum or library environments. Eyebeam, a non-profit multimedia art space was among the buildings inundated by flood waters in Manhattan’s West Chelsea neighborhood during Superstorm Sandy. Eyebeam is a collaborative workspace, rather than a museum with a “permanent collection,” but like many alternative arts spaces and contemporary art galleries with no “permanent collection,” Eyebeam maintains a collection of work created by former fellowship recipients (something that looks a lot like a permanent collection).
Just as many people in on the East Coast attempted to prepare for the storm, the art center’s staff had had underestimated the magnitude of Sandy’s storm surge, since the storm had been downgraded from the lowest level of hurricane strength on the Saffir-Simpson Scale. The staff members had worked diligently to raise equipment off of the floors and to cover furniture and equipment with plastic sheeting. Unfortunately, three feet of water flooded the interior of the building, causing the loss of 1,500 media items and $250,000 worth of equipment. The presenter showed a video demonstrating the extent of damage to the media archive, contaminated with foul, polluted, flood water. Recovery primarily involved rinsing in clean water, but recovery required more than just the treatment process.

The presenter provided a convenient, numbered list of lessons learned:
Lesson 1. Know Your Context: Assess known risks and anticipate the worst-case scenario. Eyebeam was located near the water, but the staff members had not anticipated catastrophic damage affecting the entire region.
Lesson 2. Maintain Contacts with Local Responders: Assembling a network of contacts in advance of the disaster will greatly improve response time; plan a well-designed scalable system for working with responders
Lesson 3. Train ALL Staff for Recovery: You never know who will be available in an emergency; Be prepared to break all procedures into simple steps for training. The two biggest risks during recovery were dissociation (separation of related parts or separation of labels and other identifying markings) and mishandling (outside expertise in video preservation may be scarce).
Lesson 4. Label Everything: This makes it possible to reunite parts that were separated during recovery.
Lesson 5. Make Hard Decisions in Advance: Maintain records of collection salvage priorities, so resources will not be wasted on low-value materials.
Lesson 6. Know What Roles You Will Need: Do not allow people to multi-task; each person needs a clearly defined scope of responsibility.
Lesson 7. Keep Critical Supplies on Hand: Regional disasters cause shortages of supplies that might be plentiful at retail under normal circumstances.
Lesson 8. Adrenaline Wears off: Schedule breaks from work, and assign someone to provide food, water, etc.
Lesson 9. Integrate Preparedness into Institutional Culture
Lesson 10. Strive to Avoid Negative Press: Many anonymous critics on social media complained that Eyebeam should not have maintained an archive of analog videos or hard copies of digital content, that all of the content should have been duplicated on some cloud server not affected by the storm.
Since the disaster recovery, Eyebeam has relocated to Brooklyn.

44th Annual Meeting – Emergency Session, May 16, “Lighting a Fire: Initiating an Emergency Management Program,” by Rebecca Fifield

Instituting an emergency management program at your organization is hard. I don’t think anyone would ever argue that. And it’s not just about a written emergency plan. While this is a great place to start, and certainly integral to a complete program, it doesn’t inspire and excite. It doesn’t create an emergency preparedness culture. Rebecca Fifield, a Preservation Consultant and owner of Rebecca Fifield Preservation Services, spoke about several ways to ignite a planning effort and maintain momentum when starting an emergency management program at your institution.
First, create a vision. Don’t just update your phone tree. Get a budget line, meet with your local community, and set up training exercises. Asking for a premium plan built on best practices creates the greatest impact and helps staff get behind the change.
Next, refine and strengthen that vision by creating relationships with allies. Allies can make your project stronger by challenging assumptions, informing the project with their industry expertise, and using their connections to develop momentum around your idea. But how do we identify these allies? Are they our supervisors? Yes! If they haven’t considered it before now, educate your supervisor about how risk management and emergency preparedness go hand-in-hand and how they both are part of our professional responsibility. (See Marie Malaro’s A Legal Primer for Managing Museum Collections). Are our allies Conservators, Registrars, Collections Managers, Security, Facilities Managers, Curators, Educators, IT staff, Human Resources, Communications, and Development? YES TO ALL! Emergency preparedness efforts can often be attached to efforts such as the institutional audit process, health and safety initiatives, construction, or large-scale conservation projects. Start a talking campaign. Remember that a disaster effects every staff member, so it only makes sense to have them as part of your web of allies.
Set a time-sensitive goal. Put a time frame on preparedness to create a challenge, because it can be easy to keep putting off planning. Pose questions that reveal preparedness needs for specific institutional goals: Could there be a potential protest related to an upcoming exhibition? Will you be effected by the upcoming hurricane season? Are you in a region that often deals with large amounts of snow? Look at your historical record. Has your organization suffered a past emergency, and what was the impact on people and collections? Are you dealing with aging infrastructure? Survey your staff. Does everyone know their role in an emergency? These aren’t meant to be scare tactics. This is to make sure that the decision-makers at your institution are well-informed.
Connect with other institutions and your community. Reach out to similar organizations to your own and find out who’s on their planning team and their responsibilities. Take this time to establish an informational exchange. Meet other emergency managers in your region. Get involved with professional organizations such as Alliance for Response, as well as regional responders like the Virginia Association of Museum’s Emergency Response Teams and your local Community Emergency Response Team (CERT). Encourage involvement from staff by having some of these organizations come to you for a talk or training exercises.
Be resilient in the face of negativity. We are all very busy and you may receive some push-back from management and staff. Use emergency management as an opportunity for situational leadership, which allows you to display your ability to lead for the future. It hones your persuasion skills, creates ties with operations and administration colleagues, and provides you with a ready opportunity for development that your current position may not provide. It may take months, and even years, to understand how your institution will function in an emergency, the decisions that will need to be made, and the conversations to confirm direction and readiness. Just remember, that time is as important as developing the plan itself.

42nd Annual Meeting – Book and Paper Group Session (BPG), May 30, “Salvage of Paper Materials from the Flooding of São Luiz do Paraitinga” by Fernanda Mokdessi Auada

 On Friday May 30th, Ms. Fernanda Mokdessi Auada presented an account of the joint salvage effort undertaken by the Nucleus for Conservation of Public Files of São Paulo (APESP) and the Nucleus of Restoration-Conservation Edson Motta, Laboratory del National Service for Industrial Apprenticeship (NUCLEM-SENAI) following the 2010 flooding of São Luiz do Paraitinga, Brazil. Collective gasps went up from the audience as Auada showed photographs of the devastated city. Among the images was the city all but subsumed by the Paraitinga river, and shots of devastating structural damage to the city’s principal church (São Luiz de Tolosa) and its municipal library. 

During the flood of 2010, the fall of the city’s principal church
During the flood of 2010, the fall of the city’s principal church


Thousands of documents, over 15 linear meters in total, were immersed in the flood waters for over 20 days. The papers related primarily to the population’s citizenship and legal identity, making it vital for conservators to save the information contained in the wet and moldy files. Despite the grave condition of the documents–and the challenge of having virtually no money or trained support staff–the overall salvage was a success, Ms. Auada said.

The documents arrived for salvage in three allotments. The first two allotments were treated manually, using traditional flood damage salvage procedures. First, the documents were separated and air dried flat on top of absorbent paper. The documents were then individually documented and inventoried during dry cleaning, these steps carried out in a dedicated cleaning area. Documents that could not be separated mechanically after drying were separated while immersed in an aqueous bath. Papers soiled with heavy accretions of dirt and mud were washed to recover legibility. The papers were then mended, flattened and rehoused in paper folders and corrugated polypropylene boxes. Incredibly, 95% of the documents in the first and second allotments were recovered.

The third allotment, from the Public Ministry, proved to be more problematic, calling for radical treatment. These documents arrived at the APESP three months following the flood, after having been stored wet and housed in garbage bags. Upon drying the materials, it was determined that the extensive mold damage would be impossible to treat using traditional methods. Representing a “worst-case” scenario, this allotment of 176 files was submitted to decontamination by gamma irradiation. The moldy documents were packed in corrugated cardboard boxes and sent to the Radiation Technology Centre for Nuclear and Energy Research Institute (CTR-IPEN) at the University of São Paulo. While still within the cardboard storage boxes, the documents were dosed for disinfection (not sterilization) at 11kGy. This was the first time this type of salvage procedure had been carried out in Brazil.

Following irradiation, the papers were separated and dry cleaned using brushes. The dry removal of the mold spores proved easier and faster than the first two non-irradiated allotments, with sheets separating easily. Perhaps most importantly, the biohazard was eliminated, eliminating the need to quarantine the documents during documentation and dry cleaning. Ms. Auada described the costs of the treatment as acceptable, even within the project’s meager budget. The irradiated documents will be monitored for long term effects of the radiation, with polymerization of the cellulose being of primary concern.