The Preservation Department of the University of Iowa Libraries will preserve historical documents damaged by Hurricane Katrina, starting with documents and manuscripts from the Jefferson Davis Library in Biloxi, Miss., and the Biloxi Public Library.
Library officials hope the project will provide a template for other preservation departments that want to assist Gulf Coast cultural institutions still struggling to clean up after Katrina. Already the department has conserved and returned correspondences from the Davis family. Later projects will include the local history collection at the public library, which suffered serious damage and needs to be cleaned and restored.
The idea for Project CALM (Conservation Attention for Libraries of Mississippi) came from Gary Frost, a conservator in the library’s preservation department who visited the Gulf Coast region in September as part of a team assessing post-hurricane damage. Frost said libraries and archives of the Gulf Coast of Mississippi were extensively damaged by the strong right side of hurricane Katrina. A tsunami-like storm surge drove inland up to six miles destroying coastal communities. Cultural collections of family history and municipal records were particularly devastated.
Frost has remained in touch with several contacts in Mississippi. Frost said more assessment will be performed in June, when the American Library Association holds its annual conference in New Orleans. Frost and Nancy E. Kraft, head of the UI Libraries’ preservation department, will travel to Biloxi following the conference and arrange for additional preservation projects that the UI Libraries can perform for the Davis library and the Biloxi library. Frost said the work is badly needed because the Gulf Coast region is still devastated and little of the massive restoration and reconstruction has even begun.
“The news cycle may be over but the need is still there,” Frost said. “The social, economic and municipal recovery will require many years of national resolve and assistance. Cultural renewal depends in part on the survival of historical records.”
He said the relationship with the Davis and Biloxi libraries will last for three years. Frost said the UI may create similar relationships with additional Gulf Coast organizations in the future, but the real value in Project CALM may be in showing other preservation departments how to establish similar relationships.
“We’re doing this one library at a time, one manuscript at a time,” Frost said. “It’s something that any preservation department at any major research library could do.”
In addition, he said several professional organizations have taken the lessons of Katrina to heart and are formulating rescue plans for historic documents after potential disasters in other parts of the country.
“For instance, what if there’s an earthquake on the West Coast?” he said. “These plans will mean there’s a timely and efficient response using national organizations and resources.”
Those who wish to support organizations that are helping reclaim damaged manuscripts and documents in the Gulf Coast region can donate through the American Library Association’s Adopt-a-Library Program. More information on the program can be found on the Web at http://www.ala.org/ala/cro/katrina/katrina.htm.
To make a gift to Project CALM, visit www.givetoiowa.org/calm