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U of U Conservator Returns from Gulf Coast Recovery Mission

October 6, 2005 — Randy Silverman, preservation librarian for the University of Utah’s Marriott Library and materials recovery specialist on the U of U’s Comprehensive Emergency Management Team, recently returned from a disaster recovery mission focused on cultural materials on Mississippi’s Gulf Coast damaged by Hurricane Katrina.

As part of a national recovery team selected by the American Institute for Conservation (AIC) and funded by the American Association for State and Local History (AALSH), Silverman and his team consisting of one other conservator (Gary Frost from Iowa), a museum association coordinator (Joy Barnett from Texas), and an EMT (Ashley Barnett, from Texas), visited thirteen institutions including museums, libraries, historic societies, and County Courthouses. All thirteen institutions suffered damage to their facilities and their collections ranging from minor to total building failure. A second team was sent to the New Orleans area.

The goal of the team’s work was to assess damage and coordinate with local agencies, such as the Mississippi Department of Archives and History, to get recovery and preservation plans implemented. The team arrived in Jackson on September 22nd, beginning its work with the Old Capitol Museum 170 miles from the coast.

“Our goal was to be as useful as possible – to get onsite to assess the current condition of library, archives, and museum collections, and offer assistance stabilizing wet or damaged materials,” explains Silverman, “When buildings were standing and collections were still wet, we took the first steps in remediating mold – simply opening windows and spreading out water absorbent materials to begin air drying.” Silverman stated that some of the collections had been wet for as long as four weeks.

One of the institutions Silverman and his team visited was the Beauvior, the historic Biloxi, Mississippi home of Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederacy. Silverman met with the director and the curator of the Beauvior, Patrick Hotard and Richard Flowers respectively, who not only had lost much of the museum, but also their homes. One was now camping out with federal security guards onsite while the other was living temporarily with in-laws. Silverman comments, “It was very inspiring to work with people such as Hotard and Flowers, people who had lost everything yet were able to remain upbeat and optimistic about salvaging their institution’s treasures.”

Institutions having suffered collection damage are eligible to apply to the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) for grants of up to $30,000 to assist in recovery costs, and the team drafted a number of letters of inquiry for qualifying institutions. FEMA is also providing assistance with cleanup.

“Because there is no federal agency charged with disaster recovery of historic books and artifacts, it was excellent that AASLH and AIC were able to combine forces and mobilize specialists as quickly as they did. And we were delighted that Randy was selected to participate in the recovery process,” comments Joyce Ogburn, director of the Marriott Library.

Institutions Visited Between September 22 and September 28, 2005

  • Old State Capitol Museum – Jackson MS – 9/23/2005
  • Laurel Jones County Library – Laurel MS – 9/24/2005
  • University Southern Mississippi – Campus Library – Hattiesburg MS – 9/24/2005
  • Maritime & Seafood Industry Museum – Biloxi MS – 9/25/2005
  • Beauvoir, The Jefferson Davis Home and Presidential Library – Biloxi MS – 9/25/2005
  • Old Spanish Fort Museum – Pascagoula MS – 9/26/2005
  • Jackson County Chancery Clerk – Pascagoula MS – 9/26/2005
  • Walter Anderson Museum of Art – Ocean Springs MS – 9/26/2005
  • Biloxi Public Library – Biloxi MS – 9/27/2005
  • Gulfport Public Library – Gulfport MS – 9/27/2005
  • Hancock County Courthouse – Bay St. Louis MS 9/27/2005
  • Hancock County Historical Society – Bay St. Louis MS – 9/27/2005
  • University Southern Mississippi Gulf Coast Campus – Long Beach MS – 9/28/2005

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