Protecting Your Collections: A Manual of Archival Security by Trinkaus-Randall

  • Intro: Security as a basic archival function
    • Security – an archival and records management function concerned with the protection of documents from unauthorized access and or damage or loss from fire, water, theft, mutilation or unauthorized alteration or destruction (plus don’t forget environmental protection)
    • Archival security must be considered as an integral component of archival management along with appraisal, arrangement and description, preservation and reference.
    • Six categories of collection protection:
  1. Deterrents to theft
  2. Identification of missing items
  3. Environmental controls
  4. Protection from, prevention of and recovery from disasters
  5. Exhibition and loan of materials
  6. Insurance of valuable items
    • Basics of a security plan – The plan should cover all bases and potential risks, it must be published and backed by your governing authority, vetted by a lawyer, red and understood by the staff and available in case of emergency.
  1. Disaster preparedness
  2. Staff education and training
  3. Security rules & regulations
  4. Procedures for responding to a breach in security
    • A security program starts with the process of security assessment to determine the strengths and weaknesses of the institution and will allow assessors to focus their efforts on the most productive and efficient way to protect the collections, staff and repository.
    • Consider storing items of value in secure storage as soon as they arrive and substitute copies into the collection of very valuable items.
    • Good records storage should be regarded as an inherent part of an archival security program, ex. You have an HVAC, but also smoke detectors, sprinklers and protection from flood.
    • Good reference service will lead to a more secure archival program. Interviews help identify what the patron needs and also any suspect behavior.
  • 1) Evaluating archival security needs
    • The first step in establishing an archival security program is the security assessment process – you must take into account your unique circumstances and don’t forget to assess the offices, storage and stacks
    • “It is far more economical to provide protection for collections to recover collections lost to theft, fire or natural disasters.”
    • Starting the assessment:
  1. Gather existing policies and research institutional policy. This process will tell you can or can not do
  2. Appoint an archival security officer to monitor security, keep up with current practices and be the point person in an emergency
  3. Inspect the exterior of the building – check for security risks, doors and windows, landscaping that provides hiding places or potential disasters like areas where water runs toward and not away from your building, and find out what type of alarm system you have
  4. Evaluate the interior. Check the pluming, electrical and sewage systems, identify pipe locations and potential hazards for leaks and find and examine the fire system. #Review your closing policies to be sure the entire building is secure every night and review your emergency exit policies.
  5. Review existing policies
    1. Visitor control
    2. Contractor registration
    3. Restricted access to particular areas
    4. Sign in/out procedures for researchers, staff and keys
    5. Detention of suspected thieves
    6. Staff and guard training
    7. Environmental controls
    8. Housekeeping practices
    9. Disaster and emergency access plans
  6. Evaluate the archives – check security of all areas in the archives, consider personnel security procedures (inside theft), decide how to handle valuable documents (photocopy them or leave them in?) periodically test alarms and fire extinguishers, restrict access to your storage and stacks.

2) Security and Collections

    • Deterring and preventing theft – it is impossible to secure everything, so identify your most valuable items and secure them. Then implement general security for the archives – regular patrols, restrict access to storage/stacks, lock areas with key access requiring a sign in/out log and supervise all people going into stacks (repair men etc). Keep up to date collection and accession records so you know what you have, restrict access to unprocessed collections, identify valuable items and decide on security measures you will implement, (separate and photocopy is the best procedure), when storing records in secure areas don’t forget about fire suppression.
    • Identifying missing items – take in to consideration marking individual items, do not harm to the object but mark it adequately.
    • Controlling the environment – rehouse collections into appropriate materials and hose them on appropriate metal shelves. Employ good housekeeping practices and routine inspections of your holdings for deterioration.
    • Protecting exhibited and loaned materials – do not allow permanent exhibition – limit the time to three months or less, be sure the item can be exhibited and consider using copies for display. Be sure the item is secure, insured (including transit) and subject to proper temperature, RH and light ranges.
    • Insuring valuable holdings – consider scheduling individual valuable items (helps with identifying and proving ownership of items in case of theft). Everything marked should be appraised and scheduled and reappraised every five years. Be informed of what your policy will and will not cover (ex burst pipes?).
  • 3) Security in the stacks
    • Where and how the holdings of a repository are houses, as well as the amount of access provided to these materials, can have a significant impact on their security. Closed stacks are recommended for the safety of the collection and staff.
    • Keys to restricted areas should be signed in and out, tours should be led by staff and controlled (i.e. no purses or bags) and maintenance people should be supervised in the stacks.
    • While retrieving/reshelving consider using check out cards for boxes and folders, choose a color that stands out.
    • Unprocessed collections – they are a threat because you do not have enough information on the collection to prove ownership in case of theft.
    • Keep a second set of donor records off site.
    • Electronic media – provide copies for reference, refresh the date (copy to new storage media) and migrate the media so it can be continually accessed. Also require more stringent environmental controls for storage.
    • A pleasant, efficient, trustworthy, vigilant and helpful staff can be one of the greatest assets in protecting a collection from loss, theft or mutilation.
    • Beware of staff theft – keep up to date detailed records with a backup copy stored off site. Also screen for security during the job interview and carry insurance that covers inside theft.
  • 4) Security in the reading room
    • Do not forget to secure your finding aids, always have a backup copy.
    • To combat the security threat to collections in the reading room you must have in place and implement a complete set of policies pertaining to:
  1. sign in procedures
  2. storage of researchers personal belongings in a secure area
  3. reading room surveillance
  4. Mirror monitors
  5. CCTV – cameras
  6. water and fire threats
  7. environmental controls
  8. proper staff training
  9. the well-being and activities of staff.
    • Rules and regulations for the repository – sets the tone for researchers.
    • Registration forms must provide enough information to identify the person and prove their presence in the archives on a specific date, consider asking for a photo ID.
    • When registering give patrons the rules and regulations of the room and handling procedures, photocopying procedures and publishing/copyright procedures.
    • Common reading room procedures – use only pencil and instruct researchers not to mark on the materials. Have knowledgeable staff who knows proper handling techniques and can show it to patrons. Usually the staff does all of the photocopying, limit the amount of material the researcher can use at one time and instruct them to leave materials in original order, inspect all matierals when they are returned.
  • Surveillance and supervision by staff
    • A staff person should be on duty in the reading room at all times. Be sure they are trained in surveillance (ie do not ignore patrons or only examine one area) circulate through the room often and set up the room so you have a clear line of sight for each patron and their activities (no chairs facing away from you), be sure researchers do not try to block your line of site with boxes and make sure they examine materials flat on the desk.
  • Disaster preparedness
    • The staff and researchers in any institution must be protected first and foremost – have the same detection systems in the reading room (smoke, fire and water) and train the staff in evacuation procedures and use of fire extinguishers.
    • Environmental damage – have the same conditions in the reading room as in the stacks except for adequate lighting.
    • Policies and procedures should have two predominant goals
  1. protection of human life in the event of a disaster
  2. the continual protection of the holdings that form the reason for the existence of the repository
  • 5) Environmental controls and disaster preparedness
    • One of the caveats in accepting collections or series of records for the archives is the responsibility for providing for their proper housing and storage. Failure to do so is tantamount to providing no security because of their eventual deterioration.
    • Environmental damage – continually fluctuating temperatures and RH, irrespective of their levels, accelerate the chemical activity of materials.
    • Begin monitoring the environment and after six months to one year make a request for environmental controls in the archives.
    • Have a mechanism to acclimatize materials going from controlled storage to non-controlled areas.
    • Monitor light levels and atmospheric pollutants.
  • Fire and water damage
    • Install fire detection and suppression systems linked to the local fire station.
    • Water fire extinguishers (not ABC – corrosive) should be used in an archives.
    • Sprinkler systems are relatively accident free and water damage is easier to recover from than char and fire damage, inspect the system at least once a year.
    • Wet pipe equals fast reaction to fire but might have a pipe leak
    • Dry pipe is recommended in areas where pipes might freeze.
  • Disaster preparedness planning – the greatest potential for catastrophic loss of archival holdings comes from fire and water damage.
    • Have appropriate detection and suppression systems. Make friends with your local fire department. Have a disaster plan in place that addresses priority, administrative and salvage issues and identify practices that could hamper access and recovery activities should there be an incident.
    • The plan should be developed by the whole staff and backed by the administration. A phased approach (gradual) may be the way to go.
    • Any step taken toward minimizing or eliminating potential disasters is a crucial achievement and a vital investment of time and resources ex. Inspecting fire extinguishers.
    • The most important initial step in developing a disaster plan is the assessment of the vulnerability of the repository and its holdings to a disaster. Review the building exterior and interior for potential problems – flooding, bad pipes, fire hazards.
    • Develop a disaster tem with trained personnel, a telephone tree, identify outside resources to use and have disaster kits ready.
    • Contents of plan: distribute the plan to everyone!
  1. floor plan
  2. list of supplies and suppliers
  3. list of tem members with phone numbers and addresses
  4. list of resources (plumber, carpenter, insurance agent)
  5. location of utility cut off switches
  6. identification of items to be saved in priority order
  7. allocation of staff power
  8. chain of command
  • 6) Staff Training & Public Awareness
    • Security must be an integral part of every staff member’s position description.
    • Staff education – staff should be educated in security methods through seminars, security handbooks or on the job training.
    • Patron sign in and photo ID
  1. protects the collections
  2. makes sure that researchers understand what is required of them in consulting the collections
  3. provides the staff with formal and legal back up if they have to approach a researcher who is violating the rules and endangering the collection
    • It is essential that the archives staff perform all photocopying of documents and books – Why? The staff can handle objects properly and determine when not to copy for condition or copyright reasons.
    • The staff’s role in disaster preparedness – they must know the plan and their role in it so they know how to react to a disaster, how to use the suppression equipment and the evacuation routes for the building.
    • Training of non-archival staff in larger institutions – outside staff should know security procedures so they are aware if something funny happens.
    • Patron awareness and education – rules apply to all patrons equally. If they are upset explain to them that you are not singling them out or restricting them but protecting your special and unique holdings for future use with these special handling procedures.
  • Exhibits and posters – put an exhibit together showing examples of damage and loss.
    • Have posters put up showing proper handling techniques and post rules and regulations prominently in the reading room and on tables.
    • Public relations – PR shows you are a caring and securing your collection, it looks good to potential donors and administration.
  • 7) Physical Security Systems
    • Key security elements for archives
  1. locking and access systems – be conscious of the quality of your doors, door frames and locks vs. brute force
  2. security alarms
  3. surveillance equipment
    • Function of protective equipment:
  1. delay access to the premises
  2. detect intrusion by means of an alarm
  3. frighten off the intruder
  4. apprehend and identify the offender
  • 8) Crisis Management
    • Try to anticipate and prepare for potential problems – risk management.
    • Disaster response – the safety of the staff and patrons is the first priority.
    • What to do when notified of a disaster:
  1. evaluate the situation
  2. learn the source of damage
  3. work with the appropriate local, county or regional agency
    • Once access is granted:
  1. determine the extent of damage
  2. create a plan of action
  3. call in the disaster team
    • Consider having badges or at least sign in/out sheets for all recovery workers/volunteers to help secure the collection v. unauthorized access/theft and it gives you a head count in case of further danger.
  • Suspected theft
    • Have security measures/manual in place that spells out what to do in this case.
    • Ask the patron to come into your office to discuss the problem – do not touch them or coerce them into the office (it must be of their own free will). Have a second staff member as a witness. If they agree wait in the office until security or the police come to take over. If not have the second staff member follow them to observe their car and license number and get a description of the patron.
    • Security officer’s steps to take after a suspected theft
  1. notifying – police, local dealers and museums
  2. inventorying – identify what is missing and get all identifying information for it, photographs, marks etc
  3. chronicling – chronicle events following the theft including the names and phone numbers of the people involved.
  • Choosing an insurance policy
    • Know what your policy covers and be prepared to buy additional policies for exclusions. Have the policy reimburse the fair market value of property at the time of loss (plus processing costs if possible).

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