Preserving Archives at Risk

Last week the latest issue of the International Council on Archives (ICA) Flash newsletter was published. There was a very interesting article titled, “Current Issues in Archives: Preserving Archives at Risk” that I would like to share, especially to all those who do not have access to the newsletter. The article was written by Abilyn Pua’ara Hou of the National Archives of the Solomon Islands…

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Brandon Oswald and Abilyn Pua’ara Hou at the ICA Conference, Yaounde, Cameroon. Photo courtesy of Abilyn Pua’ara Hou and the International Council on Archives

Current Issues in Archives: Preserving Archives at Risk

My name is Abilyn Pua’ara Hou. I am one of the New Professionals for 2018, and I work as a senior digitization officer at the National Archives of Solomon Islands. My experiences and reflections are based on Brandon Oswald’s presentation at the ICA Yaoundé Conference: “Combating Climate Change the Traditional Way: Pacific
Island Archives and the Fight to Protect Their Cultural Heritage”. Oswald discussed how archives in the Pacific region protect their cultural heritage from adverse effects from climate change, and intentionally mentioned that other archives worldwide can also utilize some of the ideas brought in his presentation.

Solomon Islands is one of the countries in the Pacific where climate is not consistent.
Being in a tropical area, it is usually hot and humid all year round. This means archival documents and archive building are always at risk during wet weather and also during hot seasons.

The National Archives of Solomon Islands building is situated near a stream and located facing a dusty road. So, during the rainy season the stream rises up and
cause flooding in the area and sometimes reaches the floor of the building. During the hot season, there is dust coming into the building including into repository as well. There are other contributing risk factors such as electricity and water. In
my country utilities are very expensive; government has been spending millions
of dollars on these for its ministries and departments. Having an unreliable source
of electricity means our records are at risk for mold (the repository depends entirely
on air conditioners to keep the environment suitable to preserve the documents). Water rationing also causes risk; when tap water has been turned off and then on, it can cause damage to records. We experienced this in 2009.

Brandon strongly stated that of the many concerns that pose a threat to the culture of Pacific Islanders, climate change especially (in the form of rising sea levels) has been currently sitting at the top of the list. My reflection on the presentation as a
Pacific Islander is that we must become more proactive to deal with climate change
threats. Our lessons learned could provide inspiration for others who are affected by the same threats around the globe. What inspires me most was the interim and long-term protection that Brandon mentioned in his presentation on the climate change and Pacific Islands Archives. He stated it takes a while for archival professionals in the region to acquire an understanding and the interest in addressing the threats of climate changes on their archives.

In my experience, our government has been supportive towards our archives department to address issues that affect the building and to secure the archive from water threat and other hazards (cf illustration). The National Archives of Solomon islands has done many basic things like boxing and shelving records as part of their assessment towards climate change, to preserve the records in their repository. There were international helpers from outside institutions and individuals who came in with great ideas and developed the National Archives of Solomon Islands to a next standard in this century. A digitization project has also been implemented to digitize records that are fragile and at high risk. But we are still learning about digital archiving.

We are prioritizing the records that are most at risk. But, we plan to records while they are still in good condition as well; before they are at risk of environmental hazards.

Being part of the ICA New Professionals meant I was one of the first ever participants from the National Archives of Solomon Islands and indeed I am filled with great honor and privilege to experience the opportunity of sharing and being part of the international archives communities and people who have heart for our profession. I have attended many sessions during the conference in Yaoundé, Cameroon, and listened to great presentations from archivists and professionals who have been in the field for years.

I got to know these professionals, and grew more in knowledge of archiving and managing of archives. Hearing their stories of how well they developed an understanding of archive since manual based archiving to digital archiving developed has challenged me to decide which system is the best to manage records in this technological world and to determine which system will be the best to combat the risk of climate change in the region.

Lastly, I would like to thank Brandon Oswald for the great presentation that really challenges other archives to be more active in combating climate change and fight to protect their archives from climate change risk, while also showing how the Pacific Islanders utilize traditional knowledge and practices in the safekeeping of their collections.

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