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Tag: preservation

Furloughed Fed volunteers at local historical society

When the National Archives closed its doors on October 1 due to the government shutdown, staff did not know when they would return to work. So Meris Westberg took her skills to the Historical Society of Washington, DC (HSW).

When Westberg joined HSW a few months ago, she had talked to the collections manager, Anne McDonough, about volunteering there. But the hours were similar to her work hours at the National Archives, where Westberg works on books and manuscripts in Hebrew and Arabic from the Iraqi Jewish Archives, so it didn’t seem likely she would be able to give many volunteer hours—until the furlough allowed her the time.

Westberg is a conservation technician, and so with the permission of HSW staff, she developed some short-term preservation projects that would benefit their staff and researchers. She created a Google spreadsheet of over 100 city directories from 1820 to 1900. These books were the “Yellow Pages” of their time, according to Westberg, and they are popular with researches.

The directories were in varying conditions: some were rebound and in good shape, others were falling apart. Westberg examined and noted the condition of each on her spreadsheet and did some light conservation work, including bracing the volumes with twill tape, surface cleaning, and interleaving acid-free paper behind iron-gall ink signatures. She also recommended the care that each volume needed … [ Read all ]

After the fire: Peter Waters helps save water-damaged records

Today’s post comes from Sara Holmes, supervisory preservation specialist at the National Archives in St. Louis.

Just before 9 a.m. on the morning of July 16, 1973, the fire that had raged over five days was declared out. The firemen’s command post was taken down; engines cleared the scene; and 9700 Page Avenue—home of the Military Personal Records Center (MPR)—was returned to Federal control. Recovery work began, and consultants from the private and public sectors were called to St. Louis under the oversight of the General Services Administration.

Many problems were obvious from the start: there was no electricity; broken water lines continued to flood the building; staff had been placed on leave and needed a place to return to work; records requests still needed to be answered; the sixth floor appeared to be little more than rubble and ashes; and the millions of records in the lower floors of the building were still at risk for damage. It would take an additional week for staff to return to work in makeshift quarters and a contract to be awarded to demolish the sixth floor.

With water still pooling on every floor, concerns grew that the records on the lower floors would soon bloom with mold in the hot St. Louis summer. A thymol solution was sprayed throughout the building as a preventative fungicide. (Although thymol … [ Read all ]

One fire, 5 days, and 381 men

Today’s post comes from Sara Holmes, supervisory preservation specialist at the National Archives in St. Louis. (The images below are from the National Archives at St. Louis, with a special thank you to Capt. Dave Dubowski of the Spanish Lake Fire Department and the late Chief Bob Palmer of Mehlville Fire Department.)

What happened after midnight on July 12, 1973, changed everything for the National Archives in St. Louis.

The fire was first sighted outside of 9700 Page Avenue. Minutes later, the first team arrived at the sixth floor of the building, only to be forced to retreat as their masks began to melt on their faces.

The Military Personal Records Center (MPR)—now known as the National Personnel Records Center (NPRC)—was a huge building. Hailed as an architectural wonder when it was built in 1956, the building was 1,596,332 square feet, second only to the Pentagon in size at the time. Two NFL regulation football fields would fit comfortably within each of its six floors with room to spare. It had no sprinklers in the records storage areas and few firewalls in the building. Ultimately, it was a recipe for disaster.

Response to the fire was immediate. The North Central County Fire Alarm System logged the first alarm from the Olivette Fire Department at 0016:15 (15 seconds after 12:16 a.m), with a second call for … [ Read all ]

Burned and brittle records are in good hands

Over 5,000 requests for veterans’ military personnel records are received every day at the National Personnel Records Center (NPRC) in St. Louis, MO.

Donna Judd spends each day carefully searching for valuable information for veterans in the documents left burned and brittle by the 1973 fire at the NPRC building. She looks for separation documents so that veterans can get benefits, and she sifts through damaged files to find information for medals.

“One record could take 5 minutes, another record could take 5 hours,” she says.

The fire that swept through the sixth floor of the National Personnel Records Center on July 12, 1973, damaged and destroyed millions of documents. These records are needed—often urgently—by veterans in order to claim health benefits, receive medals, or secure a military burial.

When a request for a damaged record comes in, the file is pulled and then sent to a triage area where the Preservation staff assesses its condition. If the record is heavily damaged, it remains with the Preservation team. If it’s damaged but the information could be retrieved with care, the record will go to Judd.

An average of 200 to 250 records arrive in her office every week. Judd and another staff member, Jeannette Crowder, and three part-time staff members—Wanda Dalton-Devore, Quintin Braggs, and Carol Berry—processed over 11,000 records last year.

On a good day, … [ Read all ]

It’s why I do what I do

Today’s blog post in honor of Memorial Day comes from Michael Pierce, preservation technician at the National Archives at Saint Louis.

It’s called “the Forgotten War.” But like any conflict, the Korean War is always remembered by the men and women who fought in it, and by their families.

The Preservation Lab at St. Louis occasionally get requests from JPAC (the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command) for information from records of men who went missing in Korea and other places. Our lab deals primarily with records that were damaged in the 1973 fire at our old facility in St. Louis. Millions of Official Military Personnel Files from the Army and Air Force were destroyed, or heavily damaged, by fire, smoke, and water.

Sometimes, the requested record is part of that registry. We clean the record, make copies of the necessary documents, and send them on. Normally, we don’t hear anything about the results of our efforts.

I’m always telling my fellow technicians that we’re the “unsung heroes” of the National Archives at Saint Louis. Everyone else gets the accolades and the thank-you letters, while we work in the background, quietly doing our little bit, then moving along to the next file.

However, Scott Levins, the Director of the National Personnel Records Center, recently received a letter of thanks from the folks at JPAC, mentioning the names … [ Read all ]