I had just given a refresher course to the institutions in Cedar Rapids, so we had a longstanding collegial working relationship for many years. It was natural to let them know I was available.
Before we went in to either the Czech-Slovak Museum and Library or the African American museum of Iowa, we sat down and determined what was going to be saved, what not—you always have to have things prioritized. After that step, the paper items all went off to Texas to get freeze-dried. So while those were being freeze-dried, we dealt with a lot of the museum objects: baskets, metal objects, wood objects, gourds, the LPs from the Czech and Slovak. The librarian had spent over 10 years building up that collection; he had over 5,000 recordings of 78s, 45s, and LPs.
The challenge was we had to keep them wet until we could get to them, otherwise if they had dried, all the album covers would have stuck together, and it would have been a brick. So we had to keep them smelly, stewing in their juices…it was really awful work!
With baskets, if you think about how a basket is woven together, every one of those little weaves catches dirt and mold. Every crevice has to be first vacuumed and then—it sounds really silly—what we had to do is to use spit and little in-house-made Q-tips. It breaks down the dirt safely and would clean that off. A few baskets took just a few minutes, but a lot of baskets took at least 20 or more hours, and we had some baskets that took over 40 [hours].
My guess is we’ll have most of it done in two years, then we’re going to have some of the real tough labor-intensive things left.
Here is a link to the slideshow audio file.