Disaster Management in Archives, Libraries and Museums

Margot Note (Director of Archives and Information Management, World Monuments Fund, New York, USA)

Library Review

ISSN: 0024-2535

Article publication date: 6 September 2011




Note, M. (2011), "Disaster Management in Archives, Libraries and Museums", Library Review, Vol. 60 No. 8, pp. 723-735. https://doi.org/10.1108/00242531111166773



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2011, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the 2002 floods in Europe, the war in Iraq that began the subsequent year, the Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami of 2004, 2005's Hurricane Katrina and Pakistan's earthquake: all are events that have devastated humankind and destroyed heritage collections and buildings. Natural and man‐made disasters are unavoidable, yet professionals and policy makers must prepare for them to avoid the loss of unique materials and the disruption of services.

Disaster Management in Archives, Libraries and Museums contributes to this vigilance by proposing a framework for effective disaster management by reviewing disaster plan practices on international, national, regional, local, and institutional levels. Although it is a research‐based book, it incorporates practical aspects by providing recommendations for addressing current and future threats. The book evolved from the findings of a research project, Safeguarding Heritage at Risk: Disaster Management in UK Archives, Libraries, and Museums, conducted at the School of Business Information, Liverpool John Moores University, in 2006, by Senior Researcher Yvonne Smith and Researcher Gemma Knowles, supervised by Graham Matthews, Professor of Information Management, Loughborough University. The authors define “disaster” as “any incident which threatens human safety and/or damages or threatens to damage or destroy an archive's/library's/museum's buildings, collections, contents, facilities or services,” and disaster management is characterized as “planning and actions to prevent and be prepared for disasters and dealing with them effectively. These normally address four key stages: prevention, preparedness, reaction, and recovery” (p. 40).

Although there are essential differences between archives, libraries, and museums, as well as variations between sizes and types of institutions and between regions and countries, the authors explore common issues in regards to disaster management. The goal of the book is to provide a contemporary overview of disaster management in the twenty‐first century in the UK and around the world. The authors provide a literature review and a short history of the development of disaster management in the cultural heritage sector, which increased significantly in the mid‐1990s with activities that included awareness raising, training, conferences, publications, disaster plan development, web sites, and research projects. The authors then report their findings on a four‐page questionnaire sent to archives, libraries, and museums in the UK seeking information about the respondents, organization types, disaster control plans, training, in‐house disaster management activities, external arrangements, views on disaster management, and experiences with disasters. To gain a global perspective, they also sent an e‐mail survey to international associations and institutions, conducted interviews in person and by phone, and attended conferences outside of the UK.

While there is an abundance of literature on emergency preparedness and cultural heritage, the book's strength is its ability to direct readers to appropriate resources through references at the end of chapters and in the final chapter, which contains bibliographies, general guides, and sources on experiences with disasters; cooperative activity; human aspects; insurance; risk management; security; service continuity; and war, civil unrest, and terrorism.

My sole disappointment lies with the exclusion of digital resources and services. The authors write that the choice was made:

[…] at the proposal stage of the project as its scope was determined. Reviewers of the proposal influenced this decision which was confirmed later by the Project Advisory Panel. Not only would this have added to the already wide scope of the project but others were already addressing this (for example in the UK, the Digital Preservation Coalition) (p. 1).

While the explanation is understandable, the omission of digital objects is difficult to justify in contemporary times when hybrid collections of analogue and digital items are prevalent. Physical artifacts should be saved after a catastrophe, but cataloging systems, databases, and web sites require protection too.

Disaster Management in Archives, Libraries and Museums offers perspectives on the rudiments of emergency preparedness and directs archivists, librarians, and museum professionals to sources they may wish to consult for specific problems. It is recommended for readers overwhelmed by the amount of information available and who require guidance to create or update disaster plans suited to their institutions' needs.

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