Cover All the Bases: Collections Insurance

It is quite common to organize insurance coverage for facilities, facility contents, staff healthy and safety, and vehicles, but unfortunately, it is less often purchased for collections of archival records. Archival collections may include items of high historical and monetary value and it is important to organize insurance coverage for these items in the event of an emergency or disaster.

Collections insurance is often not purchased for the following reasons:

  1. Too difficult to find an insurance company that will insure an archival collection
  2. Too difficult to determine the monetary value of original items
  3. Unable to secure funds to have a National Archival Appraisal Board (NAAB) certified professional appraise the collection
  4. Unsure how collections insurance can be used

Why is it important?

  1. 9150440989_b84a3d57d7_o.jpg

    Photo Credit: shakespearesmonkey

    It is recommended to insure items going on loan to other institutions in the event of the items being damaged or lost during transport, set-up or exhibition.

  2. It is also useful to have insurance for items that are frequently requested by researchers, handled by volunteers, or worked with by contractors.
  3. While insurance cannot replace original records, insurance can cover the costs of conservation treatment, rehousing, and digitization so that the records are once again accessible to staff and researchers.*

It is recommended to find an insurance broker that has worked with art, culture, and heritage institutions in the past as they may offer coverage for collections. If changing insurance brokers is not a feasible option, one may also inquire to their current insurance broker about ‘Valuable Papers Insurance’ to see if it is a good fit for their vital records or collection. This type of insurance coverage will reimburse the policyholder for the monetary value of papers if they are lost. These papers commonly include wills, trusts, or corporate charters. In order to be eligible to file a claim under this coverage, it must be proven that the papers were securely, and correctly housed (Valuable Papers Insurance, Investopedia).

*It is important to seek professional assistance to complete conservation treatment and digitization because mishandling the records may cause harm. Also, if the collection is insured the insurance company may require confirmation that the contractor hired to complete the work is a trained professional.

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South Peace Regional Archives Update

In March 2015, our archivist Leslie Gordon gave me a new project – adding new fonds descriptions to Alberta on Record. It had been several years since South Peace Regional Archives had been able to add new descriptions, so the representation of our holdings was far from being up to date.

As I began adding the new descriptions, I saw that much of the information that had already been entered was outdated. There were hundreds of digital files that had been uploaded in the wrong format and needed to be replaced. And because AOR had undergone significant changes in the past few years, the way the previous descriptions had been entered was not consistent with the way I was being instructed to enter the new information. After a few weeks, I asked our director, Mary Nutting, if it would be worthwhile to go through each of our descriptions, which numbered well into the thousands, and update them all to meet the current standards.

The project has taken nearly one and a half years, and there were times when it seemed as though I would never come to the end of the revisions. But apart from adding a few new PDF files, the work is now essentially complete! Since I had only been working at SPRA for a couple of months when I began working on our Alberta on Record descriptions, it was an excellent (and very thorough!) way to familiarize myself with our holdings, as well archival methods and terminology. Now that I’ve finished, it gives me a great sense of accomplishment to have worked with ASA in making this information available to the public.

Teresa Dyck
Administrative Assistant
South Peace Regional Archives

Common Ground: Disaster Psychology and Vicarious Resilience


Photo credit: Adrian Pantea

Facility restoration and collections conservation are two of the most commonly sought after disaster relief services for archives. Disaster relief services regarding staff’s health is equally as important as the state of the facility and collection. The emotional toll of disaster recovery and remediation can be a physical, as well as a mental burden on staff members. Psychologists are often called on scene during emergencies and disasters to provide emotional support to victims, survivors, volunteers and disaster relief operations workers. Psychological trauma, also known as vicarious trauma, secondary traumatic stress, and compassion fatigue is not an uncommon experience for persons after a major event.

It is recommended to hold staff training meetings to practice disaster response scenarios. While it is important to practice staff and collection evacuation techniques, it is also important to foster staff coping strategies, called ‘vicarious resilience’. Staff can be familiarized with coping strategies by referring to disaster psychology books, such as, Vicarious Trauma and Disaster Mental Health: Understanding Risks and Promoting Resilience by authors Gertie Quitangon and Mark Evces. Practicing the coping strategies will help staff mentally prepare for traumatic events as well as cope with the emotional trauma caused by these events after they have occurred.

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Disaster Preparedness Workshop


The ASA’s Education Committee, in partnership with the Flood Advisory Programme is pleased to announce the Fall Workshop:

Disaster Preparedness: Business Continuity and Disaster Psychology

This two-day workshop taking place on September 21 & 22 2016 at Hyatt Regency in Downtown Calgary. It will include sessions on Disaster Psychology by Dr. Charmaine Thomas, a hands-on workshop on Handling Wet Records presented by Emily Turgeon-Brunet, and a full day session on Business Continuity by Barry Manuel from Kildoon Emergency Management Consulting and Training.

This workshop will be for all ASA members in good standing. To allow all institutional members an equal opportunity to attend, a two-week pre-register session will happen from June 27 through July 8 which will allow each institution the opportunity to pre-register ONE individual from their institution to attend. As of July 11, registration will be opened up to all members of the ASA, and at that point multiple members from each institution may be registered. For members travelling, ASA has a significant travel grant available and will also be providing access to a hotel room block at the Hyatt for the nights of the 20th and 21st. The ASA is requesting a $100 deposit to hold your spot for the workshop, refundable upon completion.[1]

Pay attention to for further information on workshop schedule and instructors.

[1] Cheque is preferred for the deposit. If credit card payment is required a $5 processing fee will be taken off of the deposit upon refund.

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The Start Line: Business Continuity Planning

What is a business continuity plan?

A business continuity plan is a collection of guidelines meant to inform staff on how to proceed with offering services or reinstate primary functions of a business or organization after it has been affected or disrupted by an emergency or a disaster. Most often business continuity plans are considered when the facility is directly affected by an emergency or disaster. Business continuity plans are especially important for larger organizations when a large body of staff need to be managed. The plan will inform where and how staff can work to continue offering the primary services of the organization.


Before developing a business continuity plan, it is important to consider the following:

  • Is there another facility unaffected by the emergency/disaster where staff can work?
  • Is it a conducive working environment? (i.e heating, electricity, plumbing, security)
  • Are there computers, desks, chairs and required equipment at the offsite facility?
  • Will the staff have access to internet, the work server, work email accounts, and required databases?
  • Is it safe for staff to continue to work?

Where to start:

  • Refer to the textbook Business Continuity and Risk Management: Essentials of Organizational Resilience by Kurt Engemann and Doug Henderson
  • Contact a local business continuity professional for advice
  • Enroll in certification courses in business continuity are offered nationally by Disaster Recovery Institute Canada

If your archives is municipally governed it is important to seek out if a business continuity plan is already in place and what that means for you, your staff and your site.

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Legal Archives Society of Alberta: Film Premiere


Film premiere date:
Thursday, June 16th 4:30 pm
Location: Monarch Theatre, Medicine Hat, AB.
Free admission

The Legal Archives Society of Alberta (LASA) is proud to announce the production of its first dramatic short film (22 minutes) called “The Agreement” written and produced by film and television actor Julian Black Antelope: Blackstone, Penny Dreadful, Arctic Air; and directed by award winning director Michael Peterson: The Wilmore Boys, Tiny Plastic Men, Lloyd The Conqueror.

The Agreement is based on archival records relating to Lt. George T. Davidson, a Medicine Hat lawyer who freely gave up a life of privilege and wealth to serve in the trenches during WWI. The story takes an existential look at the feelings and moments of this selfless and courageous figure as he reflects on the events leading up to his enlistment.


SYNOPSIS: In the early morning hours of October 26th 1916 at the Somme battlefront, Lt. George T. Davidson and a non-commissioned officer were sent out to “No Man’s Land” to reconnoiter enemy barb wire entanglements in anticipation of an attack. Displaying courage under fire, Lt. George T. Davidson makes the ultimate self-sacrifice. Based on true-life events, archival meeting minutes of the Medicine Hat Bar Association, are re-enacted as lawyers gathered for a farewell banquet on August 26, 1914 to send-off Davidson embarking overseas. Tragically, his prophetic words come to pass ‘Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori’.* LASA hopes to promote further interest in archival holdings as an inspiration for storytelling, and to bring light to Alberta’s unique WWI story. The short film was shot on location in Calgary and at the historic Lougheed House – a place of WWI significance, owing to patriarch lawyer, Sir James Lougheed who as a Senator and Minister in Prime Minister Borden’s government oversaw the establishment of Veterans Affairs Canada.

Submitted by: Brenda McCafferty
Reviewed by the Lead Team

For more information please click here.

*Latin translation: “It is sweet and honorable to die for the fatherland.”

Risk-Based Business


Credit: m. Photo has been cropped.

What is a risk assessment?

A risk assessment is an assessment performed of a facility, site, or collection to identify potential risks; the likelihood of occurrence; the damage if the risk occurs; and the cost, effort, and work to remediate those damages.

Why is it beneficial for archives to perform a risk assessment?

It is important for an institution to know their weaknesses in order to address them. It is also useful to know what the weaknesses are to determine what insurance coverage should be purchased. For example, it may be useful to purchase flood insurance if the collection is stored on a lower level.

If the institution has additional funding available to create a new job position, performing a risk assessment may assist with the decision of what position should be created. For example, if theft and vandalism are frequent occurrences it may be useful to have a security staff member on site.

If an institution is in the process of applying for grants, performing a risk assessment may assist with creating the grant application and knowing where grant assistance would be most beneficial. If awarded the grant, should the funding go towards remediating one large risk or a few smaller risks? This is called risk-based decision making; answering questions about potential risks and the outcome if risks are not addressed.

How is a risk assessment performed?

The Canadian Conservation Institute offers a service for which institutions can apply where a CCI conservation professional visits the institution to perform a facility assessment.

It is also encouraged for institution staff to set aside time once or twice a year to discuss what risks are present due to the type of collection material and media housed, the facility structure, security and access, electric work, plumbing, among others. It is important for facilities maintenance staff, cleaning staff, archivists, conservators, and collection technicians to work together as they may recognize different potential risks.

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Now Presenting – The Lead Team’s Flood Recovery Work

The Lead Team presented at the American Institute for Conservation’s 44th Annual Meeting and the Canadian Association for Conservation’s 42nd Annual Conference in Montreal, Quebec. At this conference they presented to an international community of specialized conservators. Their presentation, ‘Through Hell or High Water: Disaster Recovery Three Years After Alberta’s Floods’ provided an overview on the work they have completed in Alberta with disaster response assistance through conservation treatment and regaining intellectual control; and disaster preparedness assistance for ASA’s institutional members.


Lead Conservator, Emily Turgeon-Brunet, and former Lead Archivist, Amanda Oliver at Palais des Congres; photo credit: Erin Kraus

In addition to presenting, the Lead Conservator also had the opportunity to tour the vaults and labs of the Canadian Centre for Architecture, and attend networking events at both the Musée des Beaux Arts de Montreal and the Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec.

The Lead Team enjoyed listening to talks presented by conservators who completed disaster recovery of artifacts and historic sites for the 2009 Cologne archives collapse, the remediation of flood damaged bound material from the 1966 Florence flood, and the 2015 fire at Clandon Park. The conference also focused on risk assessment, tips for collection care and conservation material analysis.

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Writing on Paper

It is best to avoid writing on original records, but sometimes it must be done; for example, when numbering an unbound text block. If it is imperative that labeling or numbering must occur then a pencil should be used. The writing should be executed with a light hand and in a relatively small size, best applied in the lower margin or on the back of the record. Labeling should only occur on paper and never on records made of other materials, such as polyester, cellulose-based polymers, linen, or photographic emulsion.

Types of Pencil Leads Available

There are many types of pencils available, from 10B to 10H. Pencils labeled ‘B’, which stands for blackness, have a higher amount of graphite. They are softer making them more likely to smudge and embed into the fibres of the paper. This is problematic because it will be more difficult to erase the labels and notations in the future. Pencils labeled ‘H’, which stands for hardness, have a higher amount of clay and less graphite. They are harder making them less likely to smudge but more likely to indent the paper. Pencils labeled ‘F’ mean they can be sharpened to a fine point.

A simple test was performed using the lead range of 8B – 6H, and F to see how much they smudged and how well they erased.

Control: Staedtler Mars Lumograph Pencil Set, on unbuffered 100% cotton blotting paper, no sizing agent*.


Photo Credit: Emily Turgeon-Brunet

With visual analysis, it was found that 2H, 3H and F had the best balance of smudge resistance, ability to erase, and less likely to indent the paper. If writing with a light hand, it is possible to avoid indenting the paper with marks made by H pencils. If writing on paper that has been created with sizing agents*, it is easier to erase the marks made by B pencils.

*Size or sizing agent: Sizing agents are solutions that are applied to paper during or after the papermaking process to impart useful characteristics to the paper. They can make the paper more water resistant, increase its flexibility and smoothness, decrease the susceptibility for creasing, and inhibit the feathering of the ink from writing instruments.The Lead Team Logo

Animal Skins and Coated Paper: A World of Difference

The Original Writing Materials

Parchment is animal skin (such as sheep, goat, cow, hare, horse, or deer) specially prepared to be used as a writing material.


Parchment made from sheep skin. Photo credit: Gavin Moorhead

Vellum is made specifically from the skin of a calf specially prepared to be used as a writing material or to create book covers. Using skins as a writing surface began as early as 400 BCE, though demand decreased in the 15th century when the production of paper gained popularity.


Vellum. Photo credit: Gavin Moorhead

Both parchment and vellum are made by soaking the skins in lime and water for a week and a half while stirring the vat a few times a day. The skins are removed from the vat and placed fur side up on a convex surface, and the fur is then scraped off. The skins are then stretched on a wooden frame, and while wet, are scraped with a knife a second time. Once dry, the skins may be made smooth by scraping with a pumice stone and dusted with chalk powder. Finally they are cut out of their frames and are trimmed and shaped.

How can we tell the difference between vellum and parchment?

Vellum typically has a finer grain, fewer flaws, and fewer colour variations. As parchment is usually created from the skins of full-grown animals, the grain is more pronounced due to larger hair follicles and there may also be evidence of old scars and discolouration.

Coated Paper

There are many types of coated paper, which include clay coatings and polymer coatings. Polymer coatings are used to achieve physical characteristics, water resistance, and to prevent ink from feathering.

Some polymer coatings may have a sheen, or cause the paper to be stiff and inflexible, producing similar qualities to parchment and vellum. This can make identification difficult.

How can we tell the difference between animal skin and coated paper?

Is there a grain or are hair follicles visible? If so, it is vellum or parchment.

Is there a variation in colour? If there is, it is supporting evidence that it is animal skin, though a variation in colour alone is not strong enough evidence to determine that it is not coated paper.

Can it be flexed easily? Vellum and parchment are stiffer than coated paper.

Is there a variation in opacity? A variation in opacity, but not in thickness, is evidence that it may be animal skin.

Are there creases or tears? If so, place a magnification loupe along one edge and look for paper fibres. Animal skin will not have visible fibres.

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