With Brazil still reeling from the loss of its national museum to fire, Canada’s own museums and libraries have taken the opportunity to review their risk management plans in the event something similar threatens their collections.
Calamities such as earthquakes, flooding, and forest fires have made emergency preparedness a top priority for archival institutions in Canada, but University of Toronto museum studies program director Cara Krmpotich admitted that funding for infrastructure is difficult to come by.
“Could what happened in Brazil happen here? In some ways, absolutely,” Krmpotich told The Canadian Press.
“If we think about shifting weather and climate change, absolutely this is something we should be thinking about in Canada.”
Associate chief librarian Loryl MacDonald of the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library at the University of Toronto said the institution receives enough support from donors. Although the risk of damage always exists when it comes to handling some of the world’s rarest books, MacDonald said that the university is well-prepared for such uncertainties.
“I believe a lot of the issues in Brazil revolved around not getting the financial resources they need, so knock on parchment paper that we wouldn’t have the same incidents here,” she remarked.
Fortunately for big institutions such as the University of Toronto, they have reasonable access to funding. But the same cannot be said of smaller museums and municipal heritage sites, Krmpotich pointed out.
“It’s hard to convince funders, whether it’s government funding bodies or philanthropists or government funding agencies, to fund basic core operations,” she noted.
Smaller institutions also lack conservation staff, which are badly needed following a disaster.
When a fire broke out years ago at a First Nations cultural community centre on Vancouver Island, archival institutions across the province pitched in to help preserve the collection.
Thanks to the incident, an initiative to create a province-wide network of conservation responders was born. The initiative has yet to handle an archival crisis, but Heidi Swierenga of the Museum of Anthropology says the network gives archivists more confidence.
“We’ve not had any incidents, but what we have is peace of mind,” Swierenga commented.
“Let’s just say MOA had a big flood, I would be able to pick up the phone and call conservators and they’d be able to say, ‘Yeah, we’ll be there right away.’”