I was about to write a post on libraries and museums in Joplin and across the recent tornado and flooding zones–but it seems useful to take a step back.  I want to understand why I’m so drawn to reflection on cultural heritage responses and recoveries in the face of disasters, both natural and human-made.  There are two ideas here to tease out, I think–the vulnerability of collections to water and fire and earthquakes, and the place of cultural heritage institutions in community recovery.

For the first, many institutions are unprepared for sudden disasters.  We often have disaster plans, but they may not be well-distributed or well-publicized, and staff may not know what to do.  Or the scale of the disaster is beyond staff ability to remediate.  May 1 is a time where we’re supposed to raise awareness about these issues, so here’s your obligatory MayDay for Collections link, with connections to resources

Disasters also remind us of our stewardship responsibilities.  At collecting institutions, part of our job is to ensure that the stuff outlives us, so that future visitors can encounter and learn from and wonder at it.  Artifacts like huge pieces of machinery dwarf us and by their sheer bulk may convince us that they are not vulnerable.  But of course they are.  And if/when we let them fall apart, we become part of a story about hubris, and ruins, and the dustiness and incommensurability of the past with the present.  Is this the story we want to embody? 

For the place of LAMs in disaster recovery, I always wonder what I can do as a historian and museum person–as opposed to an EMT–in the face of disaster.  And I’m drawn to the idea of cultural heritage institutions as places of hospitality.  The library in Joplin is open and took no damage, though some staff had their homes destroyed. It’s both service and hospitality to provide a free warm place with electricity and internet access, as well as access to other resources. That’s not nothing in a disaster situation.  Museums are not so good as this, though some have been imagining them as places for community, food, resources, learning and wonder in response to both current challenges and post-apocalyptic scenarios.

I think I cover these disasters, then, in that they affect cultural heritage institutions, because they are opportunities to help both people and collections.  To help people by providing them with space and resources and an assurance that their stories are important; and to help collections by an increasing attention to their physical vulnerability.  And because it’s worthwhile to publicize opportunities to help.


Disaster preparedness is necessary for cultural institutions.  When the waters rise, or the fire breaks out, does your museum know what to save first?  Who to call for conservation help?  May 1 is the international day of cultural heritage disaster preparedness awareness (I’m sure someone has developed a catchier title), and this year it coincided with the enormous floods we’ve seen affecting our friends and colleagues in Tennessee.  I thought I would share some disaster resources and do a roundup of reports on the health of Tennessee museums and archives after the flood.

Disaster Resources for the LAMs

SAA has a nice list of ideas for small tasks to do to increase your institution’s disaster preparedness.

AAM has compiled a document, Emergency Flood Recovery Resources for Museums (pdf)

Heritage Preservation + FEMA = Heritage Emergency National Taskforce

Tennessee Museums News Roundup

Flood reporting from the Tennessean.

Our colleague Gordon Belt of the Posterity Project lives in middle Tennessee and has been reporting on the flooding.  I am glad to hear that he and his family are okay.  He also reported that the Tennessee State Library and Archives avoided damage.  I’m going to quote this list he posted of affected heritage landmarks:

This list of major heritage landmarks in Tennessee damaged by the storm and flooding comes courtesy of Dr. Carroll Van West, Director of the Center for Historic Preservation at Middle Tennessee State University

Grand Ole Opry House (1974), Nashville. Brenda Colladay will let us know next week if and how many volunteers may be needed to work with the collections.
2nd Avenue North and Lower Broadway Historic Districts, Nashville
Riverside Park, Clarksville
Historic Town Square, Lebanon
Dyersburg downtown historic district, Dyer County. Downtown Dyersburg is really being hit today with the rising water from the Forked Deer River.
Bemis Historic District (the old mill town), Jackson
Millington Naval Air Station, Shelby County
Bethesda Presbyterian church and cemetery, Purdy, McNairy County (tornado)
Hartsville historic district, Trousdale County
Kingston Springs and Ashland City, Cheatham County

The following are more open landscapes that have been impacted:

Mound Bottom/narrows of the Harpeth State Park
Bicentennial Mall State Park
Springhouse, Carnton Plantation, Franklin
The Hermitage grounds and cemetery
Old City Cemetery, Nashville
Historic cemeteries, Franklin
Nashville Greenway system (especially Shelby Park)
Germantown greenway (contains Fort Germantown), Shelby County
Pinkerton Park (Fort Granger), Franklin

An interview with Kyle Young, director of the  Country Music Hall of Fame.  Their collections were not affected (exhibits and storage are on upper floors), but their building was severely flooded.

The Hermitage received some flood damage to grounds and buildings, though collections were not affected.

A disaster recovery post from a Tennessee archivist.

A report on local libraries.

A flood resource page from the Nashville Public Library.  Always nice to see the library as a key community space in a disaster.

I would be happy to update this post with information from other cultural institutions or ways to help.

I’ve scoured the corners of the internet to bring you this link roundup!

If you live in Minnesota, remember to vote yes for the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment.  This is PH’s official endorsement for the election season.

Congrats to the Brooklyn Museum for winning a Forrester Groundswell award!

A new Michigan-based booklet on rehabbing historic properties.

Will your data survive the digital dark age?

Todd has been posting about Detroit bicycling history.

LibraryThing is organizing a “cataloguing flash mob” at a church in the Boston area with historical book collections.  What a great idea!  It’s like a metadata barn raising.

Fascinating show on collections and collectors at a museum in Poland.

And, from the How Did I Beat Rob McDougall to Posting This department:  an amazing online exhibit of spirit photography!

Floods continue to inundate the Mississippi Valley. What’s happening with history and cultural heritage institutions? Read more for how you can help.

NEH has just announced that it will be giving out $1 million in grants for disaster recovery: “Affected institutions in federally designated disaster areas may apply immediately for emergency grants of up to $20,000 to salvage, protect, and treat historical collections damaged by the flooding. Such collections may include manuscripts, historical records, art and artifacts, recorded sound, film and videotape, rare books, photographs, and other materials of cultural or historical significance.”

Here in Minnesota, Historic Forestville, a living history museum run by the MHS, in a state park, had some flood damage, including a washed out bridge, but the park reopened last weekend. The caves will take a while to dry out, so postpone that trip to the Mystery Cave when you’re down in Preston.

The Cedar Rapids Public Library, right on the river, had some serious damage to collections: there’s an interview with a library spokesperson. The library’s website notes: “Please do not return flood damaged books. Fines and fees for flood damaged library materials and overdue materials are waived until further notice.” These flooded library pictures are tragic. (via jessamyn)

Heritage Preservation has a disaster resource page, with links to damage response information and ways to get teams of crack conservators to come in to your institution as collections first responders. This should be particularly useful if you’re affiliated with a flood-damaged museum or cultural resource institution.

****Want to help out affected museums with a donation? I will match donations to the Iowa Museum Association for flood relief by PH readers up to $200. We all know that small museums run on a shoestring. Without help, some of these institutions may never be able to recover. Please send checks to Iowa Museum Association, 1116 Washington Street, Cedar Falls, IA 50613. Leave a note in the comments or drop me an email to tell me you donated.****

Here’s a message that’s been circulating from the Iowa Museum Association about how to help (and here’s more tragic photos from their blog).

…While we are still receiving damage reports, it is important to begin getting supplies and help to those who have been allowed back in their facility.

Mail and delivery services as well as e-mail, telephone and cell phone communication, are spotty in some areas at this time. For that reason we have decided to concentrate delivery of supplies to two main areas at this time. More will probably be added as we are able to determine where the need for help exists.

The organizations in Cedar Falls/Waterloo and in Cedar Rapids have been or are starting to be allowed back in their buildings. In some clean up and recovery has begun. You will find attached a list of items (flood-clean-up-supply-list1 [pdf]) that I am aware of that have been vital to beginning this process – if you know of others please let me know and I will add them to the list. The supply items listed are merely suggestions – if you would like to donate money, a fund has been set up by the Iowa Museum Association which will be distributed to those affected. Funds may be sent to IMA at the address below. If you would like to donate your time and talents, you will need to contact the individual museums and see if it is safe for you to travel to that area and how you can best assist. Again, my personal experience has shown that it takes many hard-working volunteers to begin the recovery process, so “helping hands” may be the greatest blessing you can offer.

The two collection points have different volume needs based on facilities identified to date that are in need of assistance.

In Cedar Falls/Waterloo, affected museums are the Ice House Museum, the Dan Gable Wrestling Museum, the Waterloo Center for the Arts and Hope Martin Theatre.

In Cedar Rapids, affected museums are the African American Historical Museum and Cultural Center, the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art, the National Czech and Slovak Museum and Library, the Science Station, Ushers Ferry Historic Village, Seminole Valley Farm historic building complex and the Mother Mosque of North America museum.

The collection point in Cedar Falls will be the Cedar Falls Historical Society, 308 West Third Street, Cedar Falls, Iowa 50613.

The collection point in Cedar Rapids will be Brucemore, 2160 Linden Drive SE, Cedar Rapids, IA 52403.

Please ship all supplies via FedEx or UPS. In each box, please include your name, contact information and a complete list of supplies you are sending.

Area museums will be asked to send a representative to the two collection points to pick up supplies that will aid their recovery efforts. Donated supplies will be available to any museum or cultural organization that needs them, not just those listed above as identified to date.

Thank you very much for your offer of assistance!

Iowa Museum Association
mailing address: 1116 Washington Street
Cedar Falls, IA 50613
(319) 239-2236

As this weekend many of my friends will be heading down to our alma mater for reunion, I thought it would be a good time to look over some web resources on Oberlin history.  This year is the college and town’s 175th birthday, and as the first college in the country to graduate women and African-Americans, as well as a center of social justice politics, Oberlin has had an important place in American history.

The college has a 175th portal with a few timelines:  the college timeline stops at 1850, so it’s not super useful at the moment.  The college president timeline is pretty nice, with a readable but not flashy interface.  An alumni-led effort, the Oberlin LGBT Community History Project, is a great online oral history repository.  The college library has a fascinating (well, I think it’s fascinating) article on library cataloguing at the college (note the brief mention of Cutter!) as well as digitized college and town publications.  The college archives have a huge wealth of resources on college and community history, a contentdm database of archives objects, and a bibliography of material on Oberlin history.  The Oberlin Historical and Improvement Organization also collects local history and the Electronic Oberlin Group has web exhibits.  Happy 175th and happy reunion!

The library formerly known as the Minneapolis Public Library has some exhibit internships available.  They’re unpaid, and you have to be a student–but you get to work with extremely nice people in a lovely building with great collections.  My suggestion for a project:  convince the county library board to rename the Central Library the Countryman Branch.

Hennepin County Library has two internships available, one for Summer 2008 and one for Fall 2008. Each internship is part-time with a commitment of approximately 60-150 hours per academic term. The work hours are flexible and may require some evening or weekend hours.The Curatorial Intern will work under direct supervision of the Partnerships Coordinator for Arts and Business. A mentor will be assigned to the Intern from the Hennepin County Library Exhibition Review Committee. The Intern will assist with planning and implementing the exhibition program at Minneapolis Central Library. The Intern will work with library staff and community partners.

Depending on the Intern’s background and skills, projects that the Intern may work on are:


– Create a scale model of the Cargill Gallery and furnishings
– Update the community library exhibit spaces web page to include the Southeast Library
– Alexander Hamilton exhibit: work with library staff to research and gather related materials from our collection, design display for materials in gallery vitrines, write and make labels; exhibit opens late August
– Assist with de-installation of Sesquicentennial exhibit mid-August and assist with summer exhibit programs June and July


 Update:  I hate the new wordpress admin interface.

I’m decamping for the city of the straits this weekend, and may or may not do things of historical interest.  So, to tide you over, here’s historic preservation news: resources on the 1953 Marcel Breuer-designed Grosse Pointe Central Library, which was slated for demolition but now seems to be saved, with a renovation in the works.  This is a great story of web organizing, primarily by architects concerned about the future of this modernist library.  Calling themselves the Modern Architecture Protection Agency or mapa, they organized a design charette among architects from all over the world to brainstorm solutions for the library’s future.  Historic preservation ftw!

But already mapa had been successful in achieving their original goals. Internal emails early in the process had acknowledged that no member of the group was really intending to be the architect or designer of what the library would eventually build. The group’s agenda was simply to brainstorm, to show that there were other options to razing the Breuer building and, toward that end, their objective had been to make a lot of noise in the community of Grosse Pointe Farms and initiate a public discussion of what kind of library the community wanted as it proceeded into the 21st century: a well-loved landmark linked to a famed architect and an important community philanthropist; a suitably-enlarged facility; or both.

Library to be spared?  (Architectural Record)

Central Library redesign spotlight (Grosse Pointe News)

 The building committee’s blog

The exciting news of 2008 so far is that the three Minneapolis branch libraries which had been closed for over a year have reopened, including my library, the Roosevelt Library on 28th Ave and 40th St in the Standish neighborhood.  On Saturday when I visited with a librarian friend, the place was as cozy and charming as ever, but with more computers.  The Southeast and Webber Park branches, both also closed for all of 2007, are also open.  (Southeast, FYI, has the best scifi collection in the city.)  These reopenings are due to the merger between the Minneapolis Public Library and the Hennepin County Library system, which I think will be good for everyone.  There will be a big party at all three libraries next Saturday, Jan 12, from 10-6, and there will be music at Roosevelt from 3-6.  Library party-hopping! 

The Daily Planet wrote an article about the reopenings as well.

Last night I went to a fascinating talk by Mark Dimunation, head of Rare Books and Special Collections at the Library of Congress, on his project on the reconstruction of Thomas Jefferson’s library. Dimunation, a Minnesotan and St. Olaf grad, spoke at a well-attended program of the Friends of the U of M Libraries (at which I was the youngest person in the audience, natch).

When the British burned Washington City in 1814 (as revenge for the earlier American sack of Toronto), they destroyed every public building in town, including the fledgling 3000 volume congressional library. The next year, Thomas Jefferson, owner of the largest book collection in North America at the time, offered to sell his collection to the nation: thus was born the Library of Congress. Jefferson had some 6500 books on almost every conceivable topic, an e universalist library, organized bibliographically by Jefferson along Encyclopedian lines of Memory, Reason and Imagination, which he took to mean History, Philosophy and Fine Arts.  There was dissension on the floor of Congress about buying Jefferson’s library, given its high proportion of “immoral” (aka French) books, but it was finally sold and drawn by carriage to Washington in carriages taking two different routes, in case of robbery.  Unfortunately, the library building burned down thirty years later, destroying two-thirds of the library.  Dimunation’s project was to reconstruct Jefferson’s library.  Some three hundred books still elude the LoC, including a 12-page Italian pamphlet on growing pomegranate trees, but the bulk of the collection is on display at the LoC in a circular arrangement of bookshelves, the whole of knowledge surrounding the reader.  Dimunation told other stories about the RBSC’s amazing collections–a great program!

History/museum bits and pieces from the tubes:

Information policy for Borges’ Library of Babel (via)

Mapping organ donations:  making visual traces of kidney donation algorithms; is this the way to make biomedicine visible to museum audiences?  asks Biomedicine on Display.

Bill Turkel creates the ambient noise of the past, an auditory equivalent of the fuzzy, distant quality of old photographs.  Possible uses: “history appliances,” living history museums, the-way-people-lived exhibits at local history museums.  The past doesn’t have to sound like recorded music.

Joan Cummins at the Brooklyn Museum documents the purchase of a large-ticket piece of art, an ancient Indian bronze sculpture (in 4 parts):  totally fascinating, especially since my museum can’t afford to buy any artifacts.

Submit a paper to the Victorian Underworlds conference, to be held in Toronto April 11-13 2008; proposals are due by October 15.  Someone should really present about sewer-building.  I am continually in awe of the scale of these late nineteenth century public health projects, and the kind of committment it took to build that kind of infrastructure (though the London sewers, for instance, were poorly drained, and they had to hire workers to scoop them out). 

Collection Resurrection declares:  collection resurrected.  If you haven’t read this blog, it was a one-year project to document the restoration, organization, and general ‘resurrection’ of the collections and facilities of a local history museum in Gananoque, Ontario.  It’s a great story of how, with community support, a neglected local history museum can be rebuilt and positioned for the future.

The Otter Tail County Historical Society in Fergus Falls has commissioned a local artist to make a reproduction of “the municipal nude,”  also known as Gerta, a painting excavated in the 1960s from the old City Hall.  I seem to link to the OTCHS quite a lot, and it’s because they’re one of the few county historical societies in Minnesota to have a blog.  Are you a local history organization in MN (or Wisconsin, why not) with a blog?  Write to me, and I’ll keep you on my radar!

Also, look for a new feature here on PH starting next week:  Foodways Tuesdays!  This is a transparent excuse for me to talk about my preservation projects.  Next Tuesday:  leather britches beans. 

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