MayDay: Saving Our Archives

Protecting our collections is one of our fundamental responsibilities as archivists. The Heritage Health Index, released in 2005 soon after hurricanes Katrina, Rita, and Wilma struck the Gulf Coast, reported that few institutions have disaster plans and for those that do, often the plan is out of date. It’s easy to put off emergency response planning as we devote our attention to tasks with more immediate “payback.”

But on May 1—this year and every year—you can do something that will make a difference when and if an emergency occurs. That’s the purpose of MayDay—a grassroots effort whose goal is to save our archives.

MayDay is a time when archivists and other cultural heritage professionals take personal and professional responsibility for doing something simple—something that can be accomplished in a day but that can have a significant impact on an individual’s or a repository’s ability to respond.

Individuals can do many things on their own: For example, set aside time to read key policy documents once again, just to keep the information fresh. Quickly survey collections areas to ensure that nothing is stored directly on the floor, where it would be especially vulnerable to water damage. Note the location of fire exits and fire extinguishers. Encourage your repository to participate in MayDay.

Repositories may engage in activities involving all staff: For example, conduct an evacuation drill to acquaint staff members with the evacuation plan and to test its effectiveness. Or update the contact information in your existing emergency preparedness plan and create a wallet-size emergency contact roster to facilitate communication and rapid response.

SAA has prepared a list of ideas that includes a number of simple MayDay activities that can help you respond to an emergency when and if it occurs. You should adapt them to those hazards that you’re most likely to face: a repository in San Francisco might plan an earthquake drill, while another in Georgia might plan for a hurricane. Many resources are also available through SAA's MayDay partners, Heritage Preservation's Heritage Emergency National Task Force and the Council of State Archivists (with its Emergency Preparedness Initiative).

The most important thing is to do something on MayDay that will help save our archives. If you come up with other activities, we’d like to add them to the list. Please send information to the Society of American Archivists at so that we may share it with others. We’d also like to track who has participated in MayDay activities and what you did. If you or your repository conducts MayDay exercises, please send a note to the same address. Here are some examples sent to us describing group and repository participation in the past.

You can help “save our archives” by participating in MayDay!

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