The University of Iowa’s top experts at preserving documents are working with two libraries in Mississippi to rescue a host of unique items that were damaged during Hurricane Katrina last fall. Gary Frost, a conservator at the U-of-I, says we’ve all heard how the powerful storm tore up homes and businesses on the Gulf Coast, but libraries, too, fell victim to the intense winds, rain and waves. “Buildings were leveled, windows were blown out and storm surge came in on the first floor,” he says. “The documents, the books, the pictures, the photographs maps got soaked and many times, became moldy.” Frost and other preservationists from the Iowa City institution have already made a trip to Biloxi to see how their services can help the Jefferson Davis Library and the Biloxi Public Library. Frost says the two facilities were heavily damaged in the storm and now the U-of-I team has its work cut out for it. He says the goal is to restore the documents themselves and, just as importantly, to image the documents so there is a digital copy and when there are legibility problems, they can be enhanced and restored on the electronic image and the original document won’t have to again be touched. Frost says many of the libraries’ documents from the 19th century were hardest-hit by the hurricane. He says they were damaged worse than many other genres of library materials because they tend to mold easily and because of the different media of writing tend to have legibility problems from the start. Frost says the U-of-I team has already restored unique Civil War-era correspondences from the Davis family — Jefferson Davis was the president of the Confederate States of America. Frost says one of the next projects will include the local history collection at Biloxi’s public library, which suffered serious damage and needs to be cleaned and restored.
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