Training 2016: Water damage

“Dealing with water damaged papers after a disaster”

On 4th November 2016, eight archivists gathered in the meeting room of Berkshire Record Office for a half-day training on water damaged papers. We were met by Sue Hourigan, senior conservator, who was in charge of the day.

The first part of the training was theoretical and dealt with the importance of disaster planning: write a disaster plan, test the disaster plan and keep it up to date. Berkshire Record Office has a contract with Harwell, a company specialising in document drying and restoration. Sue recommended them as suppliers, and she also recommended their website ( for help on disaster planning.

We focused on water damage, and Sue gave us some recommendations on what equipment would prove handy in time of a disaster. Then Sue demonstrated salvage on different documents, listing for us the do’s and don’ts while handling books and papers. We discovered in amazement the beauty of using Melinex sheets to separate water damaged items.

The second part of the training was held in the beautiful conservation studio of Berkshire Record Office. We were presented with a big tray full of soaking wet documents for us to salvage. By teams of two we spent a good hour testing our skills on papers, drawings, open books, closed books, pamphlets, photographs, bundles, maps, ledgers, etc. Sue was available to all our questions. By the end of the session we were certainly more familiar with how to handle the various types of documents, the distinctive use of crates, plastic bags and blotting paper, and the use of Melinex on wet paper in a disaster situation.

After that practical session, we went back downstairs and had an informal round table discussion about our experience over a refreshing cup of tea. All new questions were answered by Sue. She insisted again on planning and being ready. If anything has been noted as a hazard in a repository, “It will happen”, she said. Preventive actions must be taken and a disaster plan must be ready. Sue shared with us a list of supplies that are necessary in a disaster situation and a template that could prove very useful in the first steps of writing a disaster plan.

Thank you very much to Margaret Harcourt-Williams for organising this training day, and to Sue Hourigan for running it. We gathered much needed information. The practical session was at the same time fun and instructive, and everybody thought it was time well spent.

Annaig Boyer