Over the past month or so I have attended a cornucopia of online lectures and events – there was the Institute of Conservation’s Book and Paper Group conference, the Archives and Records Association’s Conservation Lecture Week and The National Archives’ Archives Supporting Environmental Sustainability event. All of which were brilliant and gave so much food for thought! A common thread through all of these events – aside from the obvious theme from The National Archives – has been discussions about sustainable practices within the archive conservation profession.
Sustainability and climate change are words that go hand in hand but can make so many people simply glaze over. We all know we are in serious trouble but old habits can be very slow and difficult to change. While the collective we have had plenty of time to unknot ourselves, time is really running out now. As COP26 in Glasgow winds down, we can only hope that all the talk will turn to quick action towards a more sustainable future.
In my personal life I have always considered myself as a bit of a green warrior. I do my best to try to make a difference as an individual in my daily choices. This varies from buying shoes made out of apple leather using leftover pomace and peel from the fruit juice and compote industry to using local refill shops for my oat milk and dry food goods in order to reduce waste.
In my professional life, same rules apply in buying pre-loved gadgets, improvising on tools and other aids and buying as locally as possible. However, when it comes to climate change and sustainability, there is always room for improvement!
While all-archives-digitised-now aids opening up collections for ease of globally accessible research, there should be more awareness of the effects digital preservation has on our carbon footprint. Even sending out one less email a day and avoiding large attachments makes a difference! In more general terms there should also be discussion about deaccessioning materials where possible. As we face more regular extreme weather conditions, the importance of taking into account the effects of climate change in archives’ Emergency Response Planning can’t be underestimated either. Who knows, we may even come across different pest migrations causing new problems in the future as temperatures rise.
I would say the one major change for the sector was the re-write of the collections standards in 2018 with EN 16893 encouraging passive archive environments. You may have read in my last blog post from February about our new passive store. To recap, the building works for it were finished in September 2019. We now have two years of temperature and humidity data for the store despite it being an unusual time with the pandemic. We started out well and I, rather optimistically, had hopes the store would remain stable without any intervention due to our basement location. However, during the summer of 2021 we had to plug in temporary dehumidifiers in order to stay within the allowed parameters. Every little helps though! The passive store is still a big help in reducing our energy consumption and is a success in that the space has not been purpose built and the conditions stabilised quickly with the use of the dehumidifiers.
Every little improvement can, and does, have an impact. It’s easy to want to do everything at once but the beginning is always at grass root and with one thing at a time. I think it is very important for us to share and talk about our mistakes and things that might have gone wrong to learn from one another, but we must also remember to celebrate the wins in order to remain optimistic about the futures of our collective collections. Any small(er) archives like us out there with preservation and conservation professionals who are finding it all a bit daunting and would like to join forces on a small-archives-sustainability-network mission, please send me an email – let’s put our heads together!