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)
Archives
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

Pavelka contributes to Chinese conservatorship

Ferguson, John  |  Dec 16, 2016

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Scenes from China
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Scenes from senior lecturer Karen Pavelka's recent symposium in China.
Karen Pavelka
Disaster Relief
China
Conservation
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Karen Pavelka
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Karen Pavelka

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.”

Salvage Workshop Prepares Volunteers to Help

Jun 29, 2015

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Salvage demonstration
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Photo Credit: Lilly Smith, The Daily Texan
Conservation
Events
Karen Pavelka
Disaster Relief
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Karen and Camille
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Karen Pavelka with the University of Texas at Austin’s School of Information teaches Camille Stephenson how to clean damaged photos and slides during a recent workshop.

The San Marcos Extension Education Club partnered with the University of Texas at Austin's School of Information to host a Salvage Workshop to train volunteers on how to clean damaged photos, books and documents.  Karen Pavelka, a lecturer, and a team from the School of Information presented the workshop on June 3rd at the Extension office in San Marcos.  Those participating included Extension Education Club members and other volunteers wanting to help with cleanup efforts now and in the future.  Participants learned how to handle items damaged by water and flooding.  The workshop also included tips on how to store items to limit or prevent damage in the future.  

 

A video of the workshop is available here. You can also view video interviews with a few of the failitators and participants in this Daily Texan video

For more information about cleaning or preserving photos, books, etc., please feel free to contact Karen Pavelka at 512-903-9564 or pavelka@utexas.edu

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