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FIDA Award 2012 The British Solomon Islands Protectorate (BSIP) Collection Access and Training Project at the National Archives Solomon Islands - April 2012-April 2013 Honiara, Solomon Islands

The National Archives Solomon Islands.
The National Archives Solomon Islands.

The main goal of the BSIP Collection Conservation, Access and Training Project was to ensure the preservation of one the archives’ most important and valued collection. The collection is currently held in the National Archives Solomon Islands (NASI) and without conservation, drastic measures may have to be implemented to reduce access to the collection. Together with particular NASI staff members the aim of this project is to preserve the BSIP collection so that these records of enduring value will continue to be available to users for years to come.

The project began in April 2012 when volunteer, Brandon Oswald of Island Culture Archival Support, arrived at the National Archives Solomon Islands (NASI). Prior to this, archival supplies were procured and shipped to the archives that included acid-free file folders, interleaving paper, polyester folders, and gloves. Conservation training was conducted the first two days with four staff members and one volunteer of the archives. The best training method was initiating a hands-on approach working with the actual BSIP boxes. This method allowed us to get acquainted with different records deteriorating scenarios as they unfolded, as well as deciding the best way that was at our disposal to deal with them. The staff members learned quickly and became more confident when working with each subsequent box. After several months of working on the project, the NASI Staff was able to utilize, train, and manage student attachés from the South Pacific Commission to help conserve the documents. These students continued to work until the end of the project in April 2013.

A workstation.
A workstation.

The BSIP collection consists of 873 boxes. During the project we replaced and rehoused items in approximately 5000 acid folders. The documents of these boxes were cleaned, straightened, unfolded, and placed in new acid-free folders. Although we did not want to get too involved with item level conservation, we did pay close attention to important material such as hand written letters, photographs, hand drawn maps, village census takings, etc. These items needed special treatment that included cleaning and stored in special archival folders to ensure their longevity. A few surrogates were created from a few documents that were damaged beyond repair, or because of fading ink. Metal fasteners were removed, especially straight pins, paper clips, and braids.

An example of an old file.
An example of an old file.
An example of a new file.
An example of a new file.

Additionally, a preservation manual for the National Archives Solomon Islands was written. This is a very basic and user-friendly manual. It is also written with the intention that its usefulness can be adapted by anyone with an interest in preserving paper records. It has a specific relevance to archive staff, student assistants, volunteers, ministry officials and staff, and anyone learning how to preserve mostly paper records in a Pacific Islands’ cultural heritage organization. The manual is broken into sections that include: Introduction, Ideas to Think about First, Low Cost Climate Control, Paper Storage Practices, Planning Digital Projects, Handling Mold Outbreaks, Handling Pest Infestations, Forms, and an Appendix that includes a policy for preservation and mold. The manual is a dynamic document and changes will be made as the need arises.

Overall, the BSIP project went very well, particularly during a difficult and exciting year for the NASI staff in the Solomon Islands. The Festival of Pacific Arts, the Oceania Nations Cup (Soccer), and the visit of Prince William and Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, were once in a lifetime occurrences, especially in this small and isolated country. Nevertheless, the staff remarkably took full advantage of these major events to promote their archives by exhibiting some of the documents that were found during the BSIP project.