Cleaning up after Katrina: A Special Collections Perspective

Drying photographs

As a repository of historical materials about Louisiana, it’s only natural that Special Collections look back and remember those harrowing and heartbreaking days after Hurricane Katrina.

The library and archives community in Louisiana is a relatively small one, and many of us had good friends who worked in the cultural institutions in and around New Orleans. We worried about their safety and hoped against hope that their collections would be ok. Before too long, we began hearing from them, with requests for help. Many of us had been helping out with the efforts on campus, but these calls gave us the welcome opportunity to put our professional skills and facilities to good use.

In the immediate aftermath of the storm, we assisted the Catholic Archdiocese of New Orleans, the Notre Dame Seminary, and the St. Bernard Parish newspaper by providing freezer space for wet materials and safe storage for other collections in harm’s way. In addition, we helped the Louisiana State Museum triage and dry some of their affected materials.

Over a month after Katrina and a few days after Hurricane Rita, we received another request for assistance when we learned of the fate of the collection of New Orleans photographer Donn Young.

Viewing negatives

Young began his professional photographer’s life over 35 years ago. His work has appeared in Time, Newsweek, the New York Times, and many other publications. In addition to his studio and commercial work, he became the official photographer of the Port of New Orleans in 1996.

His entire life’s work was in his Lakeview studio and home when the flood waters came. Unreachable for weeks, his home and studio were submerged, drained, and submerged again, with the collection left to mold and ruin in a witches’ brew of brackish water, sewage, petroleum products, and other compounds while efforts to drain the city got underway.

On the morning of September 30, Special Collections received a telephone call from Donn. Unable to save his 35-year archive of work without help, Young donated his collection to the LSU Libraries in order that something, anything, might be saved. When a team comprised of Associate Dean for Special Collections Faye Phillips, Curator Elaine Smyth, and Image Resources Curator Mark Martin arrived to survey the materials, they found a motley mix of some 80 containers in which approximately 100 cubic feet of material were stewing in a mix of contaminated water, leached photography chemicals, and muck. Despite its condition, the documentary value of the work was clear. Believing there might be some salvageable materials, the LSU team began an urgent search for a rental truck, much in demand in the aftermath of two hurricanes, to transport the materials to Baton Rouge.

On Sunday, October 2, Phillips, Smyth, and Martin drove to Metairie to load the truck. Some of the largest containers, too heavy to be lifted safely, were repacked into smaller boxes. After four hours the truck was loaded and headed back upriver. Over the following four days Special Collections staff assembled behind the Library to triage the collection.

As expected the damage was extensive, since photographic materials do not take well to being underwater for a month. Most of the 35 mm color negative and color positive film was completely destroyed, as was almost all the 120 mm black & white negative film. Some of the 4” x 5” color negative and color positive film that had been placed in Mylar sleeves survived; some of the 35 mm black & white negative film looked as if it might be salvageable.

Damaged 35 mm negatives.

There were also more than 1,000 CD-ROMs in the mix. The aluminum layer on many of these disks completely debonded leaving a transparent disk behind, while many others suffered some degree of damage rendering them unreadable on local CD-ROM readers. A sampling at the time of disks with no visible damage revealed 4 out of 5 were still readable without using extraordinary measures; unfortunately, these undamaged disks form a very small fraction of the whole.

The Libraries’ salvage operation reduced the size of the collection from approximately 100 cubic feet to approximately 28 cubic feet, which was immediately placed in the our walk-in freezer to stabilize the materials and give the staff time to develop an action plan for the next phase of recovery.

With support from grant funds, Special Collections staff and graduate assistants, we were ultimately able to salvage over 6 linear feet including 25,000 images portraying a wide range of images from New Orleans, Louisiana, and beyond. Images include people, art, music, theater, plants, food, buildings, views, manners and customs, religion and culture, education, medicine, business, industry and transportation, associations and institutions, and sports. The materials featured in the 2008 exhibition in Hill Library “After Katrina,” and a selection of the salvaged images is available in the Louisiana Digital Library.


Posted in Digital Collections, Resources, Special Collections Tagged with: , , , , ,

Leave a Reply

Recent faculty publications


Kelsey, Sigrid, ed. Fostering Student Success: Academic, Social, and Financial Initiatives, ALA Editions, 2022.


O’Neill, Brittany. “Do They Know It When They See It?: Natural Language Preferences of Undergraduate Students for Library Resources,” College & Undergraduate Libraries. Volume 28, Issue 2 (2021).

O’Neill, Brittany and Rebecca Kelley. “Delivering Bad News: Crisis Communication Methods in Academic Libraries,” College & Research Libraries, Volume 82, Issue 3 (May 2021).

Connel, Ruth Sara; Lisa C. Wallis; David Comeaux. “The Impact of COVID-19 on the Use of Academic Library Resources,” Information Technology and Libraries. Volume 40, Issue 2 (2021).

O’Neill, B. (2021).”Three-layer primary source dip: Introducing history students to primary source research through active learning.” In The teaching with primary sources cookbook, edited by J. M. Porterfield, 16-18. Association of College & Research Libraries, 2021.


Blessinger, Kelly and Dave Comeaux. “User Experience with a New Public Interface for an Integrated Library System,” Information Technology in Libraries. Volume 39, Issue 1.

Cramer, Jennifer A. “First, Do No Harm”: Tread Carefully Where Oral History, Trauma, and Current Crises Intersect,” The Oral History Review, 47:2 (2020): 203-213, DOI: 10.1080/00940798.2020.1793679

Diamond, Tom, ed. The Academic Librarian in the Digital Age: Essays on Changing Roles and Responsibilities. McFarland, 2020.

Kelley, Rebecca and Mitch Fontenot. “Serving our Student Veterans in Louisiana,” Louisiana Libraries. Volume 82, Issue 2 (Spring 2020).

Kuyper-Rushing, Lois.A Thematic Index of Works by Eugene Bozza, A-R Editions, 2020.

Lounsberry, Megan. “Troubleshooting electronic resources from an ILL perspective,” Technical Services Quarterly, Volume 37, Issue 3.

McDonald, Ebony. “2020 Regina Medal Recipient Christopher Paul Curtis,” Catholic Library World. 

Miles, John David.  “James Harrison and the Tensas Troubles of 1878,” Civil War Book Review: Volume 22, Issue 1 (Winter 2020).

Morgan, Randa Lopez. 2020. “Supporting Student Wellness and Success through the LSU Libraries Relaxation Room.Journal of Library Outreach and Engagement v. 1, no. 1: 104–115.


Batte, Elizabeth; David Dunaway; Emily Frank; Sarah Mazur; and Laurie Phillips. “LOUIS Membership with Open Textbook Network Brings Incentive for Faculty OER Advocacy on Campuses,” CODEX: Journal of the Louisiana Chapter of the ACRL. Volume 5, Issue 3 (Fall/Winter 2019).

Borchardt, Rachel; Polly Boruff-Jones; Sigrid Kelsey; and Jennifer Matthews, “A Proposed Framework for the Evaluation of Academic Librarian Scholarship” (2019). Proceedings of the Charleston Library Conference.

Comeaux, Dave;  Emily Frank; and Mike Waugh. “Supporting Student Success: E-books as Course Materials,” CODEX: Journal of the Louisiana Chapter of the ACRL. Volume 5, Issue 2 (Fall/Winter 2019).

Dunaway, David. “Bibliometrics for Faculty Evaluation: A Stastical Comparison of h-indexes Generated Using Google Scholar and Web of Science Data,” CODEX: Journal of the Louisiana Chapter of the ACRL. Volume 5, Issue 3 (Fall/Winter 2019).

Haber, Natalie, Melissa Cornwell, & Andrea Hebert. “This worksheet works: Making the DLS Standards work for you,” College & Research Libraries News. 

Hawk, Amanda K. “Implementing Standardized Statistical Measures and Metrics for Public Services in Archival Repositories and Special Collections Libraries,” Proceedings of the 2018 Library Assessment Conference, (Association of Research Libraries, 2019): 836-843.

Hebert, Andrea and Jodi Duet. “’I’m Really Confident I Can Find the Exact IKEA Pillow’: A Qualitative Look at the Search Self-Efficacy of Graduating MLIS Students,” Behavioral & Social Sciences Librarian.

Lounsberry, Megan. “No Textbooks Allowed! (Unless You’re a Graduate Student!): Louisiana State University Pilots an ILL Textbook Service. Journal of Interlibrary Loan, Document Delivery & Electronic Reserve, 28 (3/4): 61–73.

Miles, John David. “Colfax, Kate Grant, and the Domestication of Reconstruction’s Violence,” Civil War Book Review. Volume 21, Issue 2 (Spring 2019).

Miles, John David. “The Loyalty of West Point’s Graduates Debated,” Civil War Book Review. Volume 21, Issue 1 (Winter 2019).

Miller, Marty. “Curriculum, Departmental, and Faculty Mapping in the Visual Arts Department,” Art Documentation, Volume 38, Issue 1 (March 2019): 159-173.

Morgan, Randa L. “Libraries and Gardens: Growing Together.” Catholic Library World, Volume 90, Issue 1 (September 2019): 68.

O’Neill, Brittany; and  Allen LeBlanc. “Evaluating Trends in Instruction Scheduling Management: A Survey of Louisiana’s Academic Libraries,” CODEX: Journal of the Louisiana Chapter of the ACRL. Volume 5, Issue 2 (Fall/Winter 2019).

Russo, Michael, “The Moon Belongs to Everyone:  ResearchGate and Subscription Databases Compared.”  Louisiana Libraries. Volume 81, Issue 3, (Winter 2019).

Russo, Michael, “Information Literacy through Service Learning” in Library Collaborations and Community Partnerships: Enhancing Health and Quality of Life.  Fannie M. Cox, Henry R. Cunningham, and Vickie Hines-Martin, eds., 2019.

Simms, Sarah; Hayley Johnson. “Hidden in Plain Sight,” 64 Parishes (Magazine of the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities). Issue 4 (Summer 2019).

Simms, S., & Johnson, H. Subtle activism: Using the library exhibit as a social justice tool, Alexandria, Volume 29, Issue 1-2 (2019).

Ziegler, Scott; and Cara Key. “More Than a Pretty Interface: The Louisiana Digital Library as a Data Hub,” CODEX: Journal of the Louisiana Chapter of the ACRL. Volume 5, Issue 2 (Fall/Winter 2019).

Ziegler, S.L. “Digitization Selection Criteria as Anti-Racist Action,” Code4Lib Journal. Issue 45 (2019).

Ziegler, S.L. and Steve Martin. “A Hidden Gem Becomes a Fertile Mining Ground: Historic Prison Admission Books and Data-Driven Digital Projects,” The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography Volume 143, Issue 3 (October 2019): 363-373.


Hebert, Andrea. “Information Literacy Skills of First-Year Library and Information Science Graduate Students: An Exploratory Study,” Evidence Based Library and Information Practice Volume 13, Issue 3 (September 2018).

Miller, Marty. “Sacred vs. Profane in The Great War: A Neutral’s Indictment: Louis Raemaekers’s Use of Religious Imagery in Adoration of the Magi and Our Lady of Antwerp.” Catholic Library World, vol. 89, no. 1, Sept. 2018, pp. 20–32.

Rasmussen, Hans. “The Life and Death of Raquette in Nineteenth-Century New Orleans,” Sport History Review 49 (May 2018): 23-38.

Wilder, Stanley. “Delayed Retirements and the Youth Movement among ARL Library Professionals,” Research Library Issues, no. 295 (2018).

Wilder, Stanley. “Hiring and Staffing Trends in ARL Libraries,” Research Library Issues, no. 295 (2018).

Wilder, Stanley. “Selected Demographic Trends in the ARL Professional Population,” Research Library Issues, no. 295 (2018).

Ziegler, Scott; and Richard Shrake. “PAL: Toward a Recommendation System for Manuscripts,” Information Technology and Libraries, Vol. 37, No. 3 (2018).


Caminita, C.; Cook, M.; and Paster, A. (2017). Thirty years of preserving, discovering, and accessing U.S. agricultural information: Past progress and current challenges. Library Trends, 65(3), 293-315.

Dauterive, Sarah; John Bourgeois; and Sarah Simms. “How little is too little? An examination of information literacy instruction duration for freshmen.” Journal of Information Literacy, 11.1 (2017): 204-219.

Fontenot, Mitch; Emily Frank; and Andrea Hebert. “Going Where the Users Are: Three Variations on a Theme,” Louisiana Libraries, Fall 2017.

Hawk, Amanda K. “Highflying Crowdfunding: Creating a Successful Partnership with a Campus Donor,” Archival Outlook, July/August 2017: 12-13, 19.

Hebert, Andrea; and Marty Miller. (2017). Using FSA-OWI photographs to teach information and visual literacy. Louisiana Libraries, 79(3), 19–25.

Johnson, Hayley. “#NoDAPL: Social Media, Empowerment, and Civic Participation at Standing Rock,” Library Trends, Fall 2017.