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Published on 16 May 2011
Blog/Situation report Vol 120
Joining the Preservation Operation for waterlogged documents
“There’s a small fish in the document box!” While we carrying out our work, a secretariat staff uttered so. This saying still lingers in my ears, because I felt that it represents just how these documents were damaged by the Tsunami as they had been stored.
From 7th to 8th of May, I, as one of 17 volunteer members, joined the preservation operation at the Lecture Room A on the Kawauchi campus of Tohoku University, where the Miyagi Network’s secretariat office was located which I will outline below.
This time’s target was a document group of ‘S’ family in Akazakicho, Ohunato City, Iwate Prefecture. These documents were conveyed to the secretariat office on the previous day, and numbered over ten cardboard boxes in total. Almost all of them were waterlogged by seawater, and covered with mud, furthermore we could find mould on them because a month had already passed.
On the first day of our operation, we carried those materials from the wagon to the space which was located in front of the Lecture Room, and placed them on the vinyl sheet. We organised some groups for every box to which was attached a numbered label, and started the operation. First of all, we took the documents from the boxes and roughly classified them into two groups. One of the groups included the documents whose conditions were gravely serious and adhered to each other, so we soaked them in a tray which was filled with water and shook them so as to remove the mud.
After that, we sprayed ethanol on them in order to prevent the mould. These documents will be transferred to the institutions in Tokyo and Nara, which have special facilities for vacuum dry freezing. Another group of documents which were not so stuck together had the mud wiped from every page by brush, then were sprayed ethanol and paper towels were put into the pages so as to dry them.
On the second day, we continued our operation. The documents which were already dried were sealed in envelopes which were made from acid-free paper, and temporary numbers attached to them which indicated the number of the box in which the document had been contained. Although we could not finish the whole operation of preserving historical documents over these 2 days, our purpose of carrying out urgent measures on the waterlogged documents was achieved.
The most lingering aspect of this operation was the serious damage to the historical materials. As for the wooden box to which I had responsibility, the documents were buried in mud, therefore I tried to dig them out from the box with a pallet, however their condition was akin to a cake of wet papers. It was true that I worried whether they would be actually rescued or not.
Nevertheless, with regard to the documents which were seriously damaged, they will be transferred to the Nara National Research Institute for Cultural Properties(奈良国立文化財研究所), and urgent preservative measures will be carried out by the vacuum dry freezer. I felt it was a turning point that we could establish the system of backing up the preservation operations with the cooperation of public institutions when facing such an extensive disaster.
As for myself, it was an extremely worthwhile experience operation to learn the method for rescuing waterlogged documents with other volunteer members. Henceforth, we want to participate in the rescue operations for historical materials to the best of our modest abilities.
Manabu Nakagawa, a member of the Miyagi Network for Preserving Historical Materials
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