Christmas came early for collections in the University of Alberta Museums network last week.
Santa and his elves, decked out in Hawaiian shirts and leis, were spotted all over campus, from Earth Sciences to the Fine Arts Building, delivering sturdy red bins topped with big bows.
The mystery gifts were in fact University of Alberta Museums disaster kits, filled with tools, supplies and personal protective equipment to be used in the event of an emergency, such as a flood or a spill, which could jeopardize collection objects.
"These disaster kits can be thought of as first aid kits for collections," explains Carmen Li, Preventive Conservation Manager for U of A Museums. "The reality is that the collections that make up U of A Museums are typically not in purpose-built spaces. They are distributed across campus—the majority of them in buildings with aging infrastructure—and this poses risks to collections, many of which are one-of-a-kind and irreplaceable."
While curators and collections staff knew they would be receiving disaster kits, the "Christmas in July" theme was a surprise. The presence of Santa Claus was meant to drive home an important point, however.
"Historically, the worst incidents to hit collections on campus have been during the winter closure, due to a combination of low temperatures and low occupancy causing situations to go unnoticed for too long," explains Li. "Part of the reason we are doing a push on emergency preparedness now, in July, is so the university’s collections will be that much more prepared during the next Christmas closure."
Emergency preparedness is an important part of demonstrating good stewardship for collections, and it is one of the criteria considered by the Department of Canadian Heritage when evaluating museums for official Category 'A' designation and by the Alberta Museums Association when accrediting an institution as a "Recognized Museum". Assembling and distributing disaster kits is one of several steps being taken by U of A Museums to enhance emergency preparedness for the collections it administers across campus.
Packed with tools and supplies such as particulate masks, nitrile gloves, absorbent pads, emergency flashlights, and waterproof notepads, the disaster kits will be distributed to 24 collections spaces by the end of August. There are also four larger disaster kits to be distributed in strategic locations across campus and one mobile emergency workstation that can be used by the U of A Museums Emergency Response and Recovery Team to respond to higher-level incidents.
Given that the 29 diverse museum collections located in departments across campus are used daily by professors, researchers, students, and the general public, a handy kit that helps staff deal with the unexpected truly is a great gift for all. Thank you, Santa!
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Photos (top to bottom):
- Collections Assistant Tom Hunter and U of A Museums intern Merle Hecht in the Print Study Centre in FAB
- Maryna Chernyavska, archivist at the Bohdan Medwidsky Ukrainian Folklore Archives, with U of A Museums intern Sean McWade
- Preventive Conservation Manager Carmen Li (far left) showing the disaster kit to staff in the Ukrainian Folklore Archives in the Department of Modern Languages & Cultural Studies