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

iSchool conservators care for Bacone's Ataloa Lodge collections

Oct 09, 2014

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Conservation at Bacone College
Karen Pavelka
Rebecca Elder
Faculty News
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Pavelka and Elder
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iSchool Conservators Karen Pavelka (left) and Rebecca Elder (right) at work

ISchool faculty Rebecca Elder and Karen Pavelka were invited to Bacone College in Muskogee, OK for a conservator's weekend to help care for neglected collections at Bacone's Ataloa Lodge museum. They worked along other invited collections care professionals and library staff, including the Senior VP for Advancement of the college, who showed up in a tee shirt and shorts, ready to help out wherever he was needed. The college is working to improve storage conditions for the collections, and with support from the Association of Tribal Libraries Archives and Museums as well as the Oklahoma Department of Libraries. Elder and Pavelka were recruited because of their knowledge of paper conservation and collections preservation. Other volunteers gave of their expertise in textiles, baskets, beadwork and Native American artifacts. Everyone worked well together, pitching in and adjusting schedules as needed.

Working in cramped conditions with inadequate table space and lighting, Elder and Pavelka spent much of their time gently removing documents and photographs that had been wedged into file cabinets, and transferring them into good quality folders and boxes. They emptied five file and storage cabinets and filled 21 standard document boxes.

The collections at Bacone are significant to the history of Oklahoma and Native American culture...and it is extremely gratifying to get to contribute to the effort in a tangible way.

But some of the work was less routine. Elder made a custom fit box for a small, 19th c. bible that has extreme importance to the collections. While emptying drawers they found a daguerreotype that may be an image of the founder of the college, and made a custom box for that as well. The deed for the college's land, signed by Abraham Lincoln, was framed with poor quality materials and under glass. The poor quality materials can accelerate deterioration and the glass can shatter and cut the document, so Pavelka removed the deed from the frame and stored it safely in a folder in a box.

The staff videographer filmed Elder demonstrating how to safely remove mold and Pavelka showing how to flatten rolled documents and how to safely un-frame paper objects. These tutorials will be made available to the community of tribal museums.

Elder has been involved with efforts to improve collections care at Bacone for three years, and has written preservation assessments for both the library and the museum. These reports set the stage for the current project. She says "The collections at Bacone are significant to the history of Oklahoma and Native American culture. It has been so exciting to watch the progress that has been made so far on restoring the museum's holdings to the first class research collection that it has potential to be. Even more, it is extremely gratifying to get to contribute to the effort in a tangible way." Pavelka was just happy to have been included.

Elder and Pavelka plan to remain involved with the Bacone project as advisors and consultants, providing professional assistance that would otherwise be out of reach of the school. Director of Development Kimberlie Gilliland says "Karen and Rebecca have been so generous with their time and expertise. Bacone appreciates their help preserving our collections for the future."

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