The list of things the Territory lost in the horrendous September hurricanes are still being tallied, but thankfully we can sigh relief that a larger number of historical records were not destroyed. Nonetheless, there is no cause for celebration as Chief Records Management Officer, Christopher Varlack indicated that a number of archive documents were damaged.
While speaking at a press conference following the Records Conservation and Disaster Mitigation Training that was held on 19 April Mr. Varlack said that the hurricanes caused the loss of some important documents: “You may know that many departments suffered significant loss…and there are many records that should become archives that would not become archives because they were damaged significantly by the natural forces,” he said.
“In terms of the archive materials that we have responsibility for in my Department we lost a few materials from our main office where we had current archives stored. I would say roughly about three to five percent of those materials,” he further explained.
Thankfully, the Chief Records Officer noted that some of the older documents were saved. “In terms of the older archives that date back to the mid-seventeen hundreds we didn’t lose any, because the archive strong room is relatively safe. However, that does not in any way discount that we do have some structural issues with that building and we need to ensure that those records are kept safe because that is really the nucleus of archival materials that we have here.”
Nonetheless, he added that the oldest most ancient records the Territory has need to be preserved by any means necessary. Further Varlack explained that the call for better safeguarding of the Territory’s archive began way before the hurricanes struck.
Varlack stressed that the time has come for the Territory to have a national archive. “Our cultural heritage is very important and the stage that we are now in our development it is time. We have had many reports written for a national archive repository, so it is not a new proposition whatsoever, but it is the way the funding and just getting it done.”
The point about a national repository was also expressed by Valerie Martens-Monier, a Paper Conservator from the National Archives Curacao who was in the Territory for the training program. In her comment to the media Martens-Monier mentioned: “You definitely need a national repository, be it a national archive and maybe a national library.”
Mrs Martens-Monier said that participants of the training expressed safety concerns, and were bothered by the lack of information on how to preserve documents at this critical time: “A concern I think they have is safety and health that for them is an issue now because they have to look and consult moldy documents and also the situation where they store their records is not ideal, roofs have not been repaired. There is still water dripping here and there. There is still issues when it comes to repositories or storage units so that is also their concern,” she added.
One historian told this newspaper that such important documents should have been scanned “long time ago” and stored digitally in more than one location, here in the BVI, and at safe locations outside the Caribbean, as well as at the BVI Home in London.