Texas iSchool partners with FEMA, Smithsonian to assist libraries and archives damaged by Harvey

Ferguson, John  |  Sep 07, 2017

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Flooded museum
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A museum is surrounded by floodwaters Aug. 31 near Houston. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Jason Robertson)
Disaster Relief
Karen Pavelka
Rebecca Elder
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Rebecca Elder
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Rebecca Elder

As floodwaters recede from Houston and the Gulf Coast, the Texas iSchool is coordinating a national effort to identify and assist the libraries, museums, archives and cultural institutions most affected by Hurricane Harvey.
Student volunteers in The University of Texas at Austin School of Information have identified more than 500 institutions that may have been in the hurricane’s path. As they gather contact information and monitor websites and social media feeds for updates, students say they will begin calling libraries and other collections on Sept. 11.
“We’re trying to track down information on every institution in counties that are affected by Hurricane Harvey to find out what resources they need, if they were hit, if they’re OK, and how we can help them recover,” said Rebecca Elder, an adjunct faculty member who is overseeing the group of 16 student volunteers.
Elder is the coordinator of National Heritage Responders (NHR), the volunteer emergency recovery team of the American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works. The UT Austin School of Information is also working with the Heritage Emergency National Task Force, a joint project of FEMA and the Smithsonian; TX-CERA, the Texas Cultural Emergency Response Alliance; and others.
In many cases, Elder said, affected libraries, governmental archives and other collections have only begun to assess their damage. Some, like the Heritage House of Orange County, remain inaccessible. “No tours for awhile,” the museum posted on its Facebook page. “Our world is flooded.”
After students make contact with the affected facilities and assess their needs, they will enter reports into a database that is being shared with the emergency task force. Elder added she will rely on the information provided by iSchool students as she organizes teams of conservators from National Heritage Responders to deploy to flood-ravaged areas.
In addition to iSchool students’ outreach efforts, senior lecturer Karen Pavelka, an expert in salvaging water-damaged books and paper materials, is fielding calls to a disaster-assistance hotline maintained by National Heritage Responders.
Student volunteers Ginny Barnes and Hannah Hopkins, both entering their first year in the iSchool’s Master of Science in Information Studies program, said they were eager to assist in Texas’ response to the storm. “The first priority is obviously people’s safety,” Barnes said, “but it’s also important to protect the cultural record for these communities.”
The students’ efforts are so critical to the recovery effort, according to Elder, she has been given time to discuss their work with members of the Heritage Emergency Task Force on Friday.
“The folks at FEMA are just amazed,” Elder said. “Karen and I are both absolutely thrilled that our students are willing to step up to the plate the first week of school and take on a job like this. We’re even more thrilled that our students are smart and competent, and we can give them this project and say, ‘Here, take this and run with it,’ and know the job is going to be done well.”
Pavelka and Elder have also created a list of emergency salvage tips at https://www.ischool.utexas.edu/recovery. For advice, e-mail response@ischool.utexas.edu or call 512-903-9564.
Media inquiries: Wes Ferguson, School of Information, 512-787-5213

Texas iSchool to research White House social media archives

Ferguson, John  |  Jan 04, 2017

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White House social media
Amelia Acker
Social Media
White House
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Amelia Acker
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Assistant Professor Amelia Acker

The White House announced on Jan. 5 that Texas iSchool Assistant Professor Amelia Acker will conduct a pair of research and teaching projects using President Barack Obama’s complete social media archives.
President Obama has been described as the “first social media president.” During his eight years in office, the White House issued hundreds of thousands of tweets, snaps and other posts, charting the evolution of social media. They also reflected broader changes in the ways people consume news and information and engage with the world around them online.
When the Obama administration sought to develop interesting and innovative ways to preserve the content and data, making it useful and available for years to come, Acker responded to the call to action. She will use the social media archives to conduct research that measures the Obama administration’s early social media adoption and civic engagement across platforms. She will also use the content and data to teach access standards and metadata applications at the Texas iSchool.
“Given President Obama’s adoption of new social media platforms and President-elect Trump’s extensive use of Twitter in particular, I think we have an important role to play in identifying ethics, priorities and problems with collections of social media data,” Dr. Acker said. “I’m excited for the role the Texas iSchool will play in locating and shaping the issues animating the future of training information professionals concerned with long-term digital collections, organizational transition, metadata transformation and the future of data culture.”
Dr. Acker is planning to use the social media data this semester to teach a master’s level course on metadata applications in support of digital preservation, data curation and archival access to digital collections such as these presidential and public records. Each of the 15 students who take her course will conduct a final project that finds a novel use for the social media data. The projects will be made available online in May.
For her research project, Dr. Acker will collaborate with Dr. Adam Kreisberg, a postdoctoral scholar at the University of Maryland iSchool.
For more information, contact Wes Ferguson, School of Information, 512-471-2608.

Matthew De Waelsche was Recoginized at the Juneteenth Freedom Dinner

Zhang, Yang  |  Sep 04, 2015

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Awards & Recoginition


Matthew De Waelsche, alumni of iSchool, archivist of the San Antonio Public Library's Texana/Genealogy Room, was recognized June 17 at the Juneteenth Freedom Dinner at St. Philip's College for his work with Texana's African-American funeral program collection. There are about 4,400 programs in the collection; 3,500 have been scanned and are available online through the University of North Texas online Portal to Texas History, with nearly 900 soon to be added through a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities.


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