iSchool faculty assist Puerto Rican institutions

Ferguson, John  |  Feb 12, 2018

News Image: 
Karen Pavelka in Puerto Rico
Image Caption: 
Karen Pavelka leads a conservation workshop in Puerto Rico.
Karen Pavelka
Rebecca Elder
Conservation
Disaster Relief

Texas iSchool Senior Lecturer Karen Pavelka traveled to Puerto Rico in January to assess damage and provide technical assistance to cultural institutions affected by Hurricane Maria.

The Category 4 storm hit the American territory in September 2017, devastating the island and crippling its infrastructure. In addition, many of Puerto Rico’s libraries, museums and archives experienced catastrophic damage.

“Things are still a mess,” Ms. Pavelka said. “Windows and walls are blown out. People are storing books on the floor, and there is lots of mold. I did a lot of showing people how to use soot sponges to take mold off books and paper.”

Hundreds of thousands of Puerto Ricans are still without power. Electricity had recently been restored to most of the institutions that Ms. Pavelka visited in January, although she said it was still not entirely reliable. She was part of a four-person assessment team deployed by National Heritage Responders (NHR), the volunteer emergency recovery team of the American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works.

One of three NHR teams to visit Puerto Rico last month, Ms. Pavelka’s response team was led by Laura Hortz Stanton, executive director of the Conservation Center for Art & Historic Artifacts in Philadelphia.  Beverly Perkins, Division Director of Museum Services at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West, and Jason Church, Materials Conservator with the National Center for Preservation Technology and Training, were also team members.

The team conducted a disaster-recovery workshop for artists at the Museum of the Americas in San Juan, in addition to assessing damage and providing assistance to:

  • Puerto Rico’s Demographic Registry, which maintains the commonwealth’s birth certificates and other vital records;
  • An art museum and library at the University of Puerto Rico at Cayey;
  • Fundación Nacional Para la Cultura Popular in San Juan;
  • The Inter-American University of Puerto Rico in San German, where the library had flooded and the roof leaked in multiple places.

Texas iSchool adjunct faculty member Rebecca Elder, the coordinator of NHR, has been helping to organize response teams’ visits to Puerto Rico since mid-November. Ms. Elder said NHR is still exploring the best ways to continue to help.

“There’s still a lot to be done,” Ms. Elder said. “I don’t think we need to send more people to do surveys. Training is the big thing that’s needed now.”

For those who wish to contribute to the recovery, Ms. Elder suggested making a donation to the the nonprofit Foundation of the American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works (FAIC) and designating the funds for emergency programs. Ms. Elder also encouraged librarians and archivists to seek out local emergency response groups in their communities and neighborhoods to better prepare for the possibility of a future natural disaster in their area.

“Write a disaster plan,” she said. “Find out if you can count on other institutions near you in case of a disaster, and figure out how you can be involved.”

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

Ferguson, John  |  Sep 07, 2017

News Image: 
Flooded museum
Image Caption: 
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
News Image: 
Rebecca Elder
Image Caption: 
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

News Image: 
Scenes from China
Image Caption: 
Scenes from senior lecturer Karen Pavelka's recent symposium in China.
Karen Pavelka
Disaster Relief
China
Conservation
News Image: 
Karen Pavelka
Image Caption: 
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.”

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