- Associated Press - Monday, March 7, 2016

SRHEVEPORT, La. (AP) - Rainwater from a recent storm drips through the roof into 10 black trashcans set out in a public area of the LSUS Archives. Nearby, a bright floral-patterned plastic table cloth drapes over the head archivist’s computer to prevent damage to files from leaking storm water.

The archives is in desperate need of a new roof - but due to a frozen budget, they’re doing the best they can with what they have, said head of Special Collections Jessica Lacher-Feldman.

“We are desperate for a new roof and had been told that we had funding for a plan for the roof for this fiscal year, only to be told the day after our initial meeting that the funding was no longer there,” Lacher-Feldman said.

The archives currently resides on the third floor of the new Noel Memorial Library - which makes it a prime target for water damage caused by leaks from storms, said head archivist Laura McLemore.

“When the roof leaks, it leaks on us,” McLemore said. “Most of the leaks are in the reading and reference rooms. We are doing emergency preparedness right now for additional leaks. That is a major concern, because that information is an accumulated history of the area that can’t be replaced.”

Brooke Rinaudo, LSUS director of media and public relations, said the roof started leaking sometime within the last semester, and the administration is aware of the problem. Rinaudo said the university has already started working with a contractor to identify the location of the leaks. The university also has spent more than $45,000 on the roof this past fall and has a $1.4 million emergency capital outlay project request in with the state to replace the archives roof and also parts of the Health and Physical Education building on campus.

“We don’t have money set aside to do an entire roof repair,” Rinaudo said of the library’s budget. “Somewhere the state had an appropriation specifically for roof repair, but with the budget cuts, that went away.”

Dean of Libraries for LSU Libraries Stanley J. Wilder could not give an exact cost for a new roof, but estimated that it would cost at least $400,000.

The mission of LSUS Archives and Special Collections is to “collect and preserve and make accessible the history of Northwest Louisiana and the Red River Region” and to provide “orderly retention and disposition of all university records,” according to Library Associate for Archives and Special Collections Domenica Carriere. The LSUS Archives and Special Collections contains of 1,100 individual collections, 800 maps, 200 oral histories, more than 1.5 million photographs and 23,000 linear feet of records and manuscripts that document the history and culture of the Shreveport area, northwest Louisiana, and the Ark-La-Tex region.

Gary Joiner, LSUS professor and chair of the department of history and social sciences, frequents the archives for research as well as background information for his teaching. Joiner said the state of the archives and the potential loss of important documents break his heart.

“With this last storm that had high winds, they had tarps put out in the public work areas because the rain had come in. The easy way to say this is that we dodged a bullet,” Joiner said. “Archives are repositories and often the only measure by which we can identify our history. If we can’t afford to keep what we as a society deems holy, the documents that show who we are, where is it going to stop?”

McLemore said it would cost thousands of dollars to move the archives from its current location, so the staff places valuable documents in plastic sheet protectors, covers computer storage files with plastic tablecloths and catches rainwater in various trash receptacles. McLemore said the budget for LSUS has been cut each year.

“We have not had any major budget funding in about eight years,” McLemore said. “Most people probably don’t understand that what affects the institution affects everything and everyone in it. As the governor said, we can’t keep doing more with less indefinitely. Pretty soon we’ll be trying to do everything with nothing. It’s not just LSUS’s problem; it’s everybody’s problem if we want to protect and continue to enjoy these things we value.”

The archives currently receives funding from two main sources: McLemore’s endowed professorship through William Wiener, Jr.- which amounts to about $4,000 a year- and the archive development fund, which comes from revenue the library engenders by charging customers for services such as copying.

Joiner said the maps, letters and documents from the 1700s and 1800s that inform his research are precious and irreplaceable. McLemore added that some of the archive’s most valuable documents include architectural drawings, which are used by homeowners and developers wishing to renovate historic homes and buildings.

“The original drawings are invaluable for restoration,” McLemore said. “The Downtown Restoration Association has 26 places on the Register of Historic Places. The original drawings are critical to our history and our economy. It’s a big savings to businesses and developers if they have the original drawings.”

McLemore and Joiner share the same fear: if documents are damaged or destroyed, they will be gone forever.

“What I would like for people to understand is that once it’s gone, it’s gone,” McLemore said. “If we lose our history, we don’t get it back. There’s no amount of money that exists on the earth that can bring it back if it’s gone.”

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Information from: The Times, https://www.shreveporttimes.com

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