Treasures in a broom closet: the challenges of public sector preservation10 January 2017
Preventive conservation is a complex science that can branch out in different ways. Archival work is one of them. Many public service companies or government funded organisations have more historically significant documents than people assume.
I had the opportunity to work with such an organisation: South Riverside Community Development Centre. My job was to look through past records, check if they were in correct folders, and organise them if possible. The first time I arrived at their archive, I was surprised to see a variety of materials kept in one, rather small space. The mezzanine was my workplace, with the records kept in the same place with old theatre props, photographs and, to my surprise, cleaning and sewing equipment used by the cleaning staff. Moreover, the amount of old dust on all possible surfaces was cause for concern. Original photographs of Riverside events taken decades ago were piled in old wooden cabinets, with textile puppets children have made sitting on top of the old furniture. The place was far from appropriate for storing all the historic material gathered there.
However, my initial astonishment subsided when the staff explained why the situation was so bleak. The building was small and old; many social projects for Riverside community were overlooked here. Government funded or charitable organisations have enormous difficulty carrying out their functions, let alone sustaining archives no one uses. There was simply no time or space to deal with all problems. Archival materials being the least pressing issue of such an institution creates a situation wherein old paperwork is kept in the same room as less useful equipment, such as brooms and old props.
Nevertheless, by asking for my help, the organisation took a step forward to creating order in chaos and preserving what is possible. Despite the difficulties, the documents are being archived and the mezzanine cleaned out to create a more user friendly system as well as less deteriorating environment for the documents. The work is currently still being undertaken by a volunteer, with results hopefully to be seen soon.
All photographs courtesy of Elizabete Kozlovska