Given the loss of life and property and the profound psychological impact of this catastrophe, worrying about the fate of historical records may seem like a trivial thing. However, records are essential to the recovery process: government records document the civic and property rights of citizens struggling to rebuild their lives, and other types of records can help to reconstruct the sense of place and context that disaster tears asunder.
Folks on the ground have the best grasp of the situation, but here's what I've been able to find via the Web:
- The Pratt City branch of the Birmingham Public Library was severely damaged and will likely have to be torn down. However, the Pratt City Historical Archives, which was housed in the building, was not damaged.
- Public libraries in Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, and Tennessee were destroyed or badly damaged, and staffers at some other libraries have lost their homes. The Federal Emergency Management Agency recently added public libraries to its list of community resources that merit immediate assistance following a disaster, but these libraries and their communities have a long road ahead of them.
- Some the archival and other records created by the city of Riverside, Alabama suffered water damage.
- The genealogy and local history collections of the Dade County (Georgia) Public Library System were stored in a facility that suffered terrible damage. A contractor is currently sifting through the collections and identifying salvageable materials.
- The Alabama Department of Archives and History is still trying to contact local governments in the hardest-hit parts of the state.