Thursday, September 24, 2009
Keeping order in the aftermath of a disaster is not easy to do. When the flood hit Cedar Rapids in 2008 there was very little time to get everything out of the museums and things that weren’t rescued until after they had sustained flood damage were at times so unrecognizable it was hard even to identify which museum they had come from! There was no time to take an inventory, label or organize anything.
When we got the books, maunscripts, and artifacts back to the University one of our first, and largest, tasks was to put things in some semblance of order. This was mainly done for museum artifacts as opposed to the books and manuscripts which tend to be a bit easier to identify. We had a rough idea of what we should have and the curators were extremely helpful but many items had tags obscured by mud or ink that had run.
We imposed our own organization system and began a database to keep track of which museum an item came from, the condition, proposed treatment, actual treatment, treatment time and date finished. In addition to this we photographed every thing before we started work on it. This organization system has made it much easier for us to locate items when we are in contact with the curators. It also allows us to record what we’ve done for future reference.
The African American Museum is using a program called Past Perfect which allows us to see images of items before the flood. This has been invaluable in cases where we don’t know exactly how much treatment an object needs. We don’t want to remove a finish because we think it is staining from the flood. We also do not want to “overclean” objects, taking away from their provenance.