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Pavelka contributes to Chinese conservatorship

A little over a decade ago, the iSchool’s Karen Pavelka witnessed a breakthrough for conservation of one of the world’s oldest cultures.

In 2004 she was invited to the Guangzhou province in China, northwest of Hong Kong, to give lectures at a symposium on the preservation and conservation of rare books. When Ms. Pavelka arrived at the School of Information Management at Yat-sen University, however, she realized it was the very first national symposium in her field.

The conservators had come from libraries and universities throughout China, and most of them did not know each other.

“When I got there,” Ms. Pavelka said, “I realized it was important to be a facilitator for people in all different regions of China. Conservators from across the country were talking to each other for the first time.”

Ms. Pavelka returned to the conference for the first time in 12 years this November. She delivered a keynote speech on the preparation and response to disasters, one of her specializations as senior lecturer and conservator at the Texas iSchool, where she has led outreach and demonstrated salvage techniques after natural disasters like the Bastrop wildfires and severe floods in Wimberley.

In China, Ms. Pavelka found that the International Conference on the Preservation and Conservation for Rare Books had grown considerably since 2004. Conservators were comparing notes and discussing their teaching strategies.

“Last time, they were being introduced,” she said. “This time they knew each other.”

Ms. Pavelka said Chinese paper is quite different than paper in Western nations, which requires some modifications to approaches and techniques she uses at The William and Margaret Kilgarlin Information Preservation Lab at the UT-Austin School of Information.

But most paper conservators’ best practices translate across languages, cultures and materials, Ms. Pavelka explained.

“To some extent,” she said, “a disaster is a disaster.”