Saturday, May 1, 2010

May Day

The first day of May means different things to different people. In Europe and the United Kingdom's former colonies of settlement, it's a day marked by Roman Catholic celebrations of the Virgin Mary or secular springtime festivities. In many parts of the world -- but not the United States -- today is Labor Day or International Workers Day. This year, May 1 also marks the running of the Kentucky Derby, which is always held on the first Saturday in May.

Archivists throughout the world observe the first of May in various ways. If my archivist friends on Facebook are any indication, many of them celebrate the coming of spring at the same time as they ponder the history of labor activism (or snicker at the hats worn by some Kentucky Derby spectators). Some of them are also making their way home after having attended the Western Roundup or the spring meetings of the Mid-Atlantic Archives Conference or the Society of Southwest Archivists.

However, for American archivists, in particular, the first day of May has another meaning: it's a time to focus on emergency preparedness. May Day, which is sponsored by the Society of American Archivists, the Heritage Emergency National Task Force, and the Council of State Archivists, grew out of the post-Hurricane Katrina discovery that most American archives either don't have disaster plans or have plans that were developed a long time ago and never updated.

All too often, emergency preparedness takes a back seat to providing reference services, preparing exhibits, responding to Freedom of Information requests, or tackling any one of the many, many other urgent tasks that come our way. However, caring for our collections is one of our most basic professional obligations, and May Day gives us the opportunity to devote some attention to doing so.

I know it's Saturday, and I know it's springtime, but consider taking a few minutes to update your list of emergency contacts (you really should keep a copy at home) or mentally preparing to set aside a little time next week to review your existing disaster plan, confirm that your collections are boxed up and off the floor, or make sure that supplies, not collections, are housed on the shelves directly under those pipes. If you've already done all of these things (good for you!), the Society of American Archivists has a great list of more great May Day ideas.

You might also want to devote a few minutes to thinking about how your personal records. When was the last time you backed up your hard drive, and where exactly are you storing your backup copies? Do you know exactly where your birth certificate, passport, and other essential records are, and could you retrieve them quickly in the event of an emergency? What about those old, loose family photographs you've never gotten around to rehousing? You might not be able to tackle them today, but you probably could order the necessary supplies.

I'm observing May Day by pulling together a master list of select colleagues' home and work phone numbers and e-mails; at present, I keep some of this information in my work ID/cardkey holder, but other snippets are scattered across my personal computer's hard drive, my work e-mail, and my personal e-mail. I'm also reminding myself to set aside a few minutes this week to make sure that the emergency contact information posted next to our electronic records equipment is up-to-date and to skim through my repository's emergency plan. How will you observe May Day?

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