Collection Care blog

Behind the scenes with our conservators and scientists

2 posts from September 2020

10 September 2020

Joining the British Library Salvage Team

This is the third and final blog post in a series about the British Library Salvage Team and the impact of COVID-19. Previously, my colleagues Sarah Hamlyn and Nicole Monjeau discussed changes made to the Disaster Response Plans and team training in reaction to the evolving situation and types of risk. In this post, I reflect on my experience as a relatively new member of the Salvage Team, both prior to and during the lockdown.  

I joined the British Library Salvage Team in late 2019 as an additional aspect to my role as a Digitisation Conservator. I had previous experience of developing salvage plans at a National Trust property, so I was interested to build on this and compare the approaches of the different organisations. I also considered how joining the team would be a beneficial way of developing my knowledge of the Library and its collections, and working more closely with colleagues in the conservation department and from across the organisation. Becoming a member of the Salvage Team requires going through an application process because, in addition to experience of working with collections, members must demonstrate that they are able to remain calm in an emergency, adapt to diverse situations and make decisions under pressure.

Close up view of part of the first page of the induction checklist.
Copy of the induction checklist.

Acceptance to the Salvage Team is followed by a thorough period of induction. It is essential that team members become familiar with the site, existing procedures and the location of emergency supplies and equipment. My main concern upon joining was my limited knowledge of the building, due to its size and complexity and because, as a relatively new member of staff, I had not yet gained the familiarity that develops with time. Some of the most useful training activities for me, therefore, were orientation exercises conducted within the different storage areas. As well as independent induction tasks, I joined the regular team training programme (For more information on training, see the second blog post in the series.) I found the induction process to be positive, detailed and methodical, with a checklist to ensure that each area of activity had been completed. The content of the training served as a reminder that, despite thorough planning, incidents are unpredictable and response must be adapted to each case; which the current situation exemplifies.  

Three people looking at a floor plan of an exhibition together.
Team members taking part in an exhibition orientation exercise.

I had not yet finished the full course of induction training when lockdown came into place. My immediate concerns were accessing information, (the shared phones containing the salvage manual were with those who were last on call), and travelling to site.  However, both of these areas were rapidly attended to. Team members were issued with written authorisation to travel in an emergency and instructions of how to book a contracted taxi. We then received copies of the salvage manual and briefing notes detailing revised procedures, which I found particularly important for understanding what was expected of me during this time. A positive outcome is the change to using WhatsApp in place of email for reporting in for duty and general communications. I have found it reassuring that I receive a reminder of who is on call, and the group contact has aided team cohesion. As the lockdown progressed, I grew mindful about further potential challenges, such as managing a salvage response with the requirements for social distancing, navigating the building with the new one-way system in place and responding efficiently having had a long break from my usual work routines. However, the provision of a remote training programme and the regular interaction and feedback sessions that resulted from this, have been constructive and valuable factors in remaining connected and reducing uncertainty.  

Feedback shared during a remote training session.
View of a computer screen displaying written training feedback.

The combination of reading, videos, elearning, written exercises and discussions that comprised the remote training proved an effective learning method. This supported different learning styles and enabled subject areas to be considered from multiple perspectives, providing a more complete picture. Due to the variety of the sources, I learned about incidents and organisations that I was not previously aware of, which were often international examples in which priorities differed to those of the UK. A particularly relevant case for conservators is the Florence Flood of 1966, which is known as a pivotal event in the development of conservation as a profession, but which I had not studied in detail before. I found the discussion sessions especially helpful not only for confirming that others shared the same thoughts, but for filling the gaps in my knowledge and highlighting aspects that I had not considered. It has also been interesting to hear team members’ suggestions and contribute new ideas prompted by study. In the absence of being able to carry out physical practices, this remote training programme has maintained motivation, engagement and skills development.   

Two ©Playmobil figures, wearing personal protective equipment, are shown carrying a miniature book between them.
Team work

The response to the unprecedented impact of COVID-19 has necessitated flexibility and ability to adapt to an unfolding situation, which are fortunately qualities that members of the Salvage Team already possess. Though this time has been a steep learning curve for all, it has felt that the Salvage Team has become more resilient and creative as a consequence, with this difficult period resulting in a re-focusing of our purpose and approach.

Lizzie Fuller, Digitisation Conservator

03 September 2020

Salvage training during lockdown

This is the second of three blog posts in a series about the British Library’s Salvage Team, and the adjustments made to the Team during the COVID-19 lockdown. In a previous post, my colleague Sarah Hamlyn discussed how our Salvage Team normally operates and shared changes we’ve made during lockdown. Below, I am going to tell you about how our training for the Team has changed.

Pre-lockdown training

In order to ensure the Salvage Team is not only up-to-date in their knowledge of our salvage procedures but also confident and capable if they are called out during an incident, regular training for the team is a must. Pre-lockdown, our training programme involved a variety of exercises which touched on a range of aspects related to salvage and emergency preparedness.

When a new member is appointed to the Salvage Team, they go through an induction period with a number of different training exercises. This includes information on how the Salvage Team works, an exercise to get new members used to our salvage phones and the documents on them, a series of exercises that help acquaint us with various areas of the building, and a series of practical exercises so we get a sense of what it’s like to pick up wet collection items, how to freeze items, how to vacuum freeze items, and how to vacuum seal items. 

Nicole is dressed in a white Tyvek suit, face mask, and blue Nitrile gloves. She is placing a bagged book in the vacuum sealing machine.
Vacuum sealing training during my induction to the Salvage Team

In addition to induction training for new team members, we also implement a regular programme of refresher training for the whole team throughout the year. Some of these exercises follow a very regular pattern. For example, we carry out an exercise prior to the opening of each exhibition, so our team members are familiar with the exhibition itself as well the priority items which need to be salvaged first in the event of an incident. 

The team members stand close together to fill out a paper document.
Two team members work together to complete an exhibition salvage exercise

There are also exercises to refresh our minds about other aspects of salvage. Some recent examples include:

A salvage exercise to remind team members how the phones work – The team was instructed to answer a variety of questions, the answers to which were found in various documents on our phones. 

Two questions which ask: 1) On which colour phone screen do you find a map of floor 1? and What does EMS stand for and in what phone document do you find this answer?
The first part of the phone refresher exercise.

A salvage trolley restock exercise - Team members were given the task of locating one salvage trolley, which tested our navigation skills around the building. We then brought this back to a sorting area, which was set up with a variety of new materials that the salvage trolleys were restocked with. This exercise helped in two ways—it allowed us to replace old salvage materials with new, up-to-date items, and it also gave each team member first-hand knowledge of what each trolley contains. This would help us remember the type of materials found in each trolley. 


Salvage exercises in lockdown

Prior to lockdown, we had just appointed a new member to the Salvage Team, and they needed to continue with induction training. So one of the first tasks was to consider how to take training around salvage trolley locations which usually happens on-site, and turn it into an exercise that could be done from home. We ended up utilising the maps and trolley content information that is normally housed on the phones, and stored on the Library’s computer drives in pdf files, and asked questions that could be answered by referencing these documents. This would at least get the team member acquainted with what types of materials are found in our salvage trolleys, and they’d also have a general awareness of where the trolleys were found. In addition, they would be aware that these documents are found on the salvage phones, and if an incident were to occur they could use the phone to help them locate the nearest trolley. 

Two questions which ask: 1) What does the Salvage Trolley contain that could help you transport a selection of wet books to the freezer? and 2) Where is the freezer?
Part of the trolley induction exercise.

We also knew we needed a way to maintain a regular salvage training programme during lockdown for the whole team. There is risk that without being in the building regularly, you might not only forget what used to be everyday things about the Library, but salvage procedures could be forgotten as well. If you’re called out, you may find yourself feeling even more flustered than usual.  Additionally, as mentioned in Sarah’s blog post, our salvage phones which contain guidance on how to respond to an incident were with the people who had them last before lockdown, so this guidance would not be easily accessible for most of us should we be called out. So we decided to create a series of exercises which could be done from Salvage Team members’ homes.

But how to carry out an exercise from home? Well, we utilised what would be readily available to most people: material which is available online, including articles, videos, and eLearning modules.

We decided to send fortnightly exercises that walked the team through all the stages of emergency planning and the salvage process. This started at the very beginning with planning, and we sent the team links to the Museum of London Introduction to Emergency Planning elearning tool and the Collections Trust Emergency planning for collections webpage. We then asked them to answer the following question: In planning for emergencies, it’s recommended to mitigate risks to collections. Can you think of ways we have done this at the Library? Our exercises carried on in that vein, with topics including fire and flood case studies, decision making, and types of damage caused during a salvage incident, with a series of questions being asked relating to the resources in each exercise. 

With every two exercises complete, we gathered the team for Zoom meetings. Prior to these meetings, I collated all responses to the exercises, and decided how to present that information in a meeting, starting with simply sharing my screen and going through a Word document and eventually moving to making a more visual PowerPoint presentation. These meetings allowed team members to hear what other people thought and confirmed that on the whole we are considering the same issues. It was also a forum to raise questions and make suggestions. 

A computer monitor displaying a slide which says, 'What are some of the techniques in the videos that we might need to adapt if we were dealing with an incident at the Library? what would work for us and what wouldn't?' The text is white on a pink background and to the right of the monitor is a panel of participants in the Zoom meeting.
A slide from our feedback session via Zoom.

One highlight for me was a question where we asked people to tell us about incidents they’ve been involved in as well as lessons learnt when responding to these incidents. We got such great insights in these responses that we decided the responses should form their own exercise. This was a great way to share information with fellow team members and learn from one another.

Lessons learnt and next steps

In addition to this being a useful way to continue to train the team and to share knowledge, it was also a useful way for us to consider what might be missing from our plans and from the way the team operates. 

Throughout these training sessions, we’ve asked team members what would be useful to have in our own emergency plan and on our salvage phones. This has resulted in a number of suggestions which can indeed be implemented and will only improve our plan and responses to an incident. Some of these suggestions include: more training and involvement across the wider Library, particularly with other teams who would likely be responding to an incident; communicating with Salvage Teams from other institutions to compare notes; and visual aids like flow charts being added to the information stored on our phones. There were also a lot of requests for more team building through things like wash-ups after incidents and off-site exercises to get to know one another better.

The next step is to take all suggestions that have been made and to create an action plan. From there we can start to prioritise items and form our goals for the next year and beyond. We intend to involve the whole Salvage Team in putting together many of these objectives. Being one of the people who puts together training for the Team, I understand just how useful it is to create the training yourself. You form a better understanding of how our policies work, which will hopefully translate into making you a better responder should an incident happen. So by involving the whole team in future training and policy adjustments, we can all become better acquainted with our procedures. Additionally, it gives people ownership over the training they have requested.

Two Playmobil figures: one is pushing a trolley and the other holds BL-branded paperwork. They are set up to simulate a salvage scene.

Final thoughts

Overall this training has been a great way to learn from one another and to also push our own boundaries with regards to what we consider training. We are constantly looking to refresh and improve our training programme—after all, the better trained we are the better responders we will be—and this has shown us that we can adapt and be creative, and come up with exercises that suit not only a variety of learning styles but also a variety of working patterns.

Stay tuned for a blog post from Digitisation Conservator Lizzie, who will be sharing information about the Salvage Team from a perspective of someone who has been somewhat recently inducted.

Nicole Monjeau

Preventive Conservator