iSchool faculty assist Puerto Rican institutionsFerguson, John  | Feb 12, 2018
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 HarveyFerguson, John  | Sep 07, 2017
iSchool conservators care for Bacone's Ataloa Lodge collectionsOct 09, 2014
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."