The Library of Congress THE LOC.GOV WISE GUIDE
HOME Learning From Katrina Gimme Some Candy! Highlighting Hispanic Heroes On the Lamb Cutting a Rug Ode to Autumn Who Really Elects the President
Learning From Katrina

August 29, 2008, marked the third anniversary of Hurricane Katrina’s devastating impact on New Orleans and the Gulf Coast. In commemoration, and in light of hurricane season, the Library of Congress presents a Web site titled "Learning from Katrina," which provides insights for better responses to record and artifact damage by hurricanes.

Scene of hurricane damage in Miami, Fla.; fallen palm trees surround large homes. 1926 Atlantic hurricane tracking chart. 1995

On the site, visitors can hear seven interviews with professional conservators who helped salvage collections storm-damaged in August 2005. In the interviews, responders discuss the lessons learned, their motivations, expectations and preparations, and their experiences. The interviews were conducted in 2006 at the Library of Congress by the Preservation Directorate, in collaboration with the Federal Library and Information Center Committee (FLICC) and the American Folklife Center.

Hurricanes can damage collections in several ways. High winds, flying debris, driving rain and rushing and rising waters can break windows, blow papers around, scatter and tear documents, and knock over bookshelves. Even if books initially remain on bookshelves, rain or floodwater can cause the paper in the books to expand, swelling bookbindings to the point where loosely stacked books may pop off the shelves. Water can dissolve inks, colorants and other components of letters, prints, photographs and books. More importantly, floodwaters arising from a hurricane’s pelting rain are often contaminated, depositing soil, mud or toxins on precious family treasures.

Following rain or flooding from hurricanes, residual dampness can lead to the growth of mold, which can cause health problems for humans and disfigure books and papers. Some papers, such as clay-coated illustrations, can also stick or "block" together.

Despite these dire possibilities, there are actions that can be taken to salvage collections of hurricane-damaged papers, prints, books and even audiovisual materials such as films, tapes, CDs and DVDs.

The Library's Preservation Directorate's Emergency Preparedness webpage links to many helpful publications and organizations. The Family Treasures page on "Preserving Treasures After Disaster" includes information on drying wet materials and video clips on handling damaged objects. Other video clips can be found at the Heritage Preservation Foundation.

Other experts can be found through the "Selecting a Conservator" page of the American Institute of Conservation. The Library's collaboration with the Smithsonian Institution, National Archives, and National Park Service has created "A Primer on Disaster Preparedness, Management and Response: Paper-Based Materials."

Recommended links for flood-related emergencies are given at the Library’s Flood Response Web page.

The Digital Reference Team at the Library has also updated the Today in History page for Aug. 29 in acknowledgment of the Katrina anniversary. The page includes many compelling historical resources about New Orleans, the Gulf states, hurricanes and related topics.

A. Scene of hurricane damage in Miami, Fla.; fallen palm trees surround large homes. 1926. Prints and Photographs Division. Reproduction Information: Reproduction No.: LC-USZ62-48725 (b&w film copy neg.); Call No.: LOT 10208 [item] [P&P]

B. Atlantic hurricane tracking chart. 1995. Geography and Maps Division. Reproduction Information: Reproduction information not available.