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Faculty Spotlight

Lisl ZachDr. Lisl Zach
Associate Teaching Professor
The iSchool at Drexel

"Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition" is coming to The Franklin Institute, and alumni and guests in the Philadelphia area are invited to a talk and tour of the exhibit on Thursday, November 15. The exhibit, which honors the centennial anniversary of the Titanic's maiden voyage, features 300 legendary artifacts conserved from the ship's debris, including china etched with the logo of the elite White Star line and perfume from a maker who was traveling to New York to sell his samples.

Before the tour, Dr. Lisl Zach, associate teaching professor at The iSchool at Drexel, will explore the stark contrasts between the way critical information spread after the Titanic and how it compares to the information sharing capabilities of today, including the Internet and the use of social media.

Dr. Zach first became interested in the topic of communication in the wake of disasters after experiencing Hurricane Katrina first-hand. She spent four years at Louisiana State University where, among other duties, she was president of the local Special Libraries Association chapter when Hurricane Katrina hit.

"At the time, one of the things I had to figure out was how to get a hold of people, and it wasn't as easy as one would have thought," she said.

According to Dr. Zach, as soon as things got somewhat "back to normal," she started talking to other librarians all over the state and around the Gulf Coast to find out what they did to provide communication support to all of the displaced people.

"As a researcher, I instantly began thinking about what the research opportunity in all of this could be," she said. Following Katrina, Dr. Zach received a grant from the Institute for Museum and Library Services to study the responses of librarians after disasters such as Gulf Coast hurricanes. It was then that she really became interested in the research behind what people do in disasters when the normal lines of communication start breaking down.

Through her research, Dr. Zach has acquired an interest in the sinking of the Titanic, specifically how and when important information about the disaster finally reached official sources such as other ships, rescuers, and journalists on land.

"The issue with the Titanic was that there they were in the middle of the North Atlantic, furiously sending distress signals and it took almost 24 hours for news of the disaster to make it to anywhere that mattered," she said. "In contrast, 100 years later in 2012, the massive cruise liner Costa Concordia went down off the coast of Italy and within seconds people on the ship were calling, texting, and e-mailing people all over the world."

When comparing the Titanic disaster to modern day crises such as the attacks on September 11 or the earthquake in Haiti, many differences can be seen regarding the ways that people communicated.

"Now, because of social media and the Internet, information that is shared in the wake of a disaster is not official and so it is not necessarily accurate," said Dr. Zach. "Modern day technology now allows human beings to be human beings which can sometimes result in incorrect information being shared."