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MayDay! America's Collections Cry for Help

Hurricane Katrina vividly demonstrated the devastation of natural disasters that occur with little warning. In addition to the loss of lives, homes, and businesses, such disasters can also destroy the historical record of past generations. Shortly after Katrina, Heritage Preservation and the Institute of Museum and Library Services released a comprehensive survey entitled "A Public Trust at Risk: The Heritage Health Index Report on the State of America’s Collections" (PDF), which described the dire situation in many of our nation’s repositories and outlined immediate steps that institutions should take to safeguard their local and national treasures.

In 2006, the Society of American Archivists, whose members care for the nation’s documentary heritage, established a day to focus on efforts to protect collections from disasters.  “MayDay” – a play on the international distress signal – is celebrated on traditional “May Day,” May 1.  MayDay activities are designed to raise awareness and encourage appropriate planning for possible disasters that can threaten collections.

Although large natural disasters like Katrina capture national headlines, smaller events can be just as catastrophic. Many museums and libraries have experienced collection damage and loss through preventable disasters, such as leaky roofs, water leaks from broken pipes, or fires from faulty wiring. The effects of these emergencies can be mitigated by proper planning and the implementation of a disaster plan.

A significant part of the mission of the Women's History and Resource Center is to preserve GFWC’s valuable collections. The WHRC recently had its semi-annual inspection of the Halon fire suppression system and WRHC staff reviewed operating and safety procedures. The WHRC staff is updating its current disaster plan and preparing for a preservation survey of the collections.


»The Heritage Emergency National Task Force provides ideas and resources for MayDay preservation and planning activities, including identifying environmental hazards, getting to know your local emergency personnel, and conducting a building evacuation drill. Use these ideas with your own club’s records or volunteer to help out at a local repository with historical collections.

»Purchase and fill in an Emergency Response and Salvage Wheel as a simple MayDay project. This handy reference tool is available for purchase through Heritage Preservation.


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