Sunday, February 28, 2010

Aid for Haiti's libraries and archives

I've been planning for some time to post something about the situation in Haiti, and you'll see a longer post about this subject within the next week or two. However, I wanted to do my part to spread the word about the efforts of the Digital Library of the Caribbean (dLOC) to safeguard the collections of Haiti's most significant libraries and archives.

dLOC, a consortium of cultural institutions located in Aruba, the Bahamas, Belize, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Jamaica, Venezuela, and the United States, provides a centralized repository for digitized newspapers, government records, scientific datasets, multimedia materials, and artistic works documenting the history and culture of the Caribbean.

Several Haitian institutions were active dLOC partners prior to the 12 January 2010 earthquake, and in the wake of the disaster dLOC has started the Protecting Haitian Patrimony Initiative to rescue and stabilize the holdings of the country's most significant archives and libraries, which were damaged but not destroyed on 12 January.

The Protecting Haitian Patrimony Initiative will:
  • Facilitate communication between institutions wishing to provide assistance.
  • Coordinate the provision of technical and in-kind support
  • Gather the names of librarians, archivists, conservationists, and other cultural heritage professionals who wish to volunteer their services in Haiti
  • Raise funds that will allow Haitian institutions to purchase supplies, contract for services, and pay the travel costs and wages of personnel working on specific disaster recovery and preservation projects.
The staff of dLOC's Haitian partner institutions will be responsible for setting priorities and identifying areas of greatest need, thus ensuring that local sovereignty and knowledge are respected.

At present, the Protecting Haitian Patrimony Initiative will focus on the holdings of four major institutions:
  • Archives nationales d’Haïti
  • Bibliothèque haïtienne des Pères du Saint-Esprit / St. Martial
  • Bibliothèque haïtienne des Frères de l'Instruction Chrétienne / Saint Louis de Gonzague
  • Bibliothèque nationale d’Haïti
However, dLOC is keenly mindful of the need to assist university and public libraries and to ensure the preservation of significant collections in private hands, and the relief effort may expand as a result.

To date, dLOC has raised approximately $4200 for the Protecting Haitian Patrimony Initiative and has received roughly 50 offers of volunteer assistance. Obviously, much more is needed. If you're in a position to donate money -- even a little -- to support this initiative or to offer your time and your professional knowledge and skills to your Haitian colleagues, please do so.

Of course, Haiti's other needs are immense, and these needs aren't going away simply because the news media have moved on to Chile, which is suffering greatly as a result of yesterday's earthquake, and to the usual mix of political scandals, entertainment stories, and puff pieces that all too often dominates the airwaves. Untold numbers of what Anderson Cooper recently termed "stupid deaths" -- deaths caused by the lack of basic medical care, potable water, adequate nourishment, and decent shelter -- are still occurring in Haiti, and thinking about the fate of Haiti's cultural heritage materials may seem like a luxury at this time. However, we archivists, librarians, curators, conservationists know that these materials are essential to Haiti's long-term social, cultural, and economic recovery and that they will be lost unless immediate action is taken.

If you want to help ensure that all of Haiti's needs are met, please consider donating both to dLOC (or other groups seeking to assist Haiti's cultural heritage institutions) and to a reputable organization working to provide medical, food, or other assistance. Doctors Without Borders does heroic work in countries beset by natural disaster, armed conflict, malnutrition, or epidemic disease, and Partners in Health has been active in Haiti for over 20 years and has developed a highly effective community-based and -driven model of health care provision; you'll find "donate" links to each organization at the top right of this page. A host of other organizations are also helping to meet the immediate needs of the Haitian people, and you'll find them listed here.