For more than 40 years, beginning with the effort to restore the National Library in Florence following the devastating floods in that city in 1966, the Library of Congress has assisted at home and abroad in the aftermath of natural and man-made disasters. (See Information Bulletin, May 2007.)
In recent years, the Library has assisted in preservation and recovery efforts of library materials in areas affected by hurricanes Katrina and Rita and helped reconstruct Afghanistan’s laws, which were destroyed during the period of Taliban rule.
The Library’s most recent relief effort involves the preservation and restoration of Haiti’s laws and culture in the aftermath of the devastating earthquake in that region on Jan. 12, 2010.
The need for access to Haiti’s statutes and other law-related materials has become paramount to the nation, its people, and organizations helping with the recovery effort.
In the interest of providing greater access to Haitian legal materials, the Law Library of Congress has embarked on a project to digitize Haitian law titles that are in the public domain. The goal of this project is to offer an easily accessible, comprehensive legal collection for Haiti.
The Law Library of Congress’s collection contains more than 800 Haitian law titles that have been made available through various sources, including the Library of Congress online catalog. Public access to summaries of and related information about the Law Library’s Haitian law holdings is available through the Global Legal Information Network (GLIN), www.glin.gov/search.action. GLIN is a public database of official texts of laws, regulations, judicial decisions, and other complementary legal sources contributed by governmental agencies and international organizations.
To date, more than 370 Haitian legal materials have been organized and prepared for digitization.
“This is a wonderful opportunity for the Law Library of Congress to share its collections in direct support of a humanitarian effort,” said Law Librarian of Congress Roberta Shaffer. “By combining our rich collection of Haitian law with collections of law libraries all over the world, we can provide the Haitian people, other governments and nonprofit organizations with access to most of the legal materials that were lost in the devastating earthquake. As Haiti begins to rebuild, it will be building on the strong foundation of the rule of law.”
The fruits of a Library of Congress field trip to Haiti in the 1930s, which have been preserved and accessible to researchers in the Library of Congress for the past 70 years, will be repatriated, in digital form, to Haiti.
In 1936, ethnomusicologist Alan Lomax of the Library’s Archive of Folk Song (now housed in the Library’s American Folklife Center), arrived in Haiti with 155 pounds of equipment, including a disc recorder and aluminum blanks. Over the course of his four-month stay in Haiti, Lomax, together with his wife Elizabeth Lyttleton Harold and his assistant Révolie Polinice, recorded street cries, old French ballads, early forms of merengue, large percussion bands and voodoo ceremonies, among many other sounds.
In all, Lomax returned with about 50 hours of recorded sound and six moving pictures, which were at the time the most extensive documentation of Haitian traditional culture ever undertaken. This remarkable collection has been housed in the Library’s folk archive, accessible to researchers in the Folklife Reading Room.
With the help of the Association for Cultural Equity (ACE), an organization founded by Lomax as a center for the preservation of the world’s expressive traditions, and the Magic Shop recording studio in New York, the Library’s American Folklife Center and Motion Picture, Broadcasting and Recorded Sound Division performed extensive preservation work on the Haitian recordings.
Sound engineer Brad McCoy and recorded sound curator Matthew Barton transferred the aluminum discs to digital files in the Library’s recorded sound lab. The transferred files were then sent to the Magic Shop, where the ambient and mechanical noise was removed and the music enhanced to the greatest extent possible. The entire collection was then mastered using state-of-the-art tools in the summer of 2009.
A selection of the Haitian materials was released on a 10-CD box set by Harte Recordings (www.harterecordings.com ). For a limited time, part of each purchase price will go toward Haitian relief efforts.
The restored and digitally remastered set features extensive documentation and notes, including a reproduction of Lomax’s field notebook from the trip, and a hardcover book containing essays by ethnomusicologist Gage Averill, Library staff members Todd Harvey and Matthew Barton, and ACE president Anna Lomax Wood (Alan Lomax’s daughter).
“Alan Lomax and the Library of Congress recognized African-American culture as a diaspora of powerful affiliations and exchanges extending beyond the boundaries of the United States, to and from Africa. We thus respectfully offer this work as an homage to the artistry, spirituality and courage of greater Africa, as represented by the Haitian people,” said Wood.
Stephen Winick of the American Folklife Center and Karla Walker of the Law Library contributed to this story.