Responding to High-Volume Water Disasters in the Research Library Context

Responding to High-Volume Water Disasters in the Research Library Context

Whitney Baker (University of Kansas Libraries, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-8624-3.ch013
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The University of Kansas (KU) Libraries comprise seven physical campus spaces with a total volume count of over 4.4 million volumes. The Libraries' Conservation Services Department manages a Collections Emergency Response Team (CERT), with representation across the library system. This chapter describes how, in the summer of 2012, the CERT's preparation was put to the test when extreme drought conditions in the region led to a water main break that inundated the campus art and architecture library. Over 17,000 volumes were vacuum-freeze-dried by a commercial vendor, and an additional 26,000 dry volumes moved from the space, which was rebuilt from the ground up. Lessons learned from that disaster were applied to a smaller, yet still significant, mechanical failure the following summer in the science and social science library, which wetted around 4,500 volumes and led to another contract with a commercial vendor. Insights learned from these experiences are shared in the following chapter.
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The library disaster literature may be broadly divided into two categories: preparedness guides and response case studies. Although a few publications exist prior to the mid-1960s, the proliferation of literature began in earnest after the 1966 Florence Flood, when the banks of the Arno River in Florence, Italy, deposited water, mud, and fuel oil on priceless cultural heritage. As stated by librarians after the disaster, the Florence Flood “was an event so dramatic and so extensively reported throughout the world that it made the library profession vividly aware of the vulnerability of its collections” (Association of Research Libraries, 1980, p.1). As Ogden (1979) notes in an article that examined the disaster literature ten years before and after the Florence Flood, nothing was published before 1966 that dealt with large-scale recovery of library collections, in particular books. After the flood, the literature began to focus on mass treatment approaches for water-damaged library materials.

The experiences of the first responders to the Florence Flood also represent some early published case studies of library disasters. In 1967 Horton documented her experiences in Florence, noting that the books with coated paper stuck together and mold proliferated among collection materials (Horton, 1967). Clarkson (2009), reminiscing years later, recalled that low-technology salvage techniques, such as the use of human chains to efficiently remove damaged collection materials from compromised environments, were hallmarks of the Florence Flood recovery operations. Library professionals experimented with a wide variety of industrial drying techniques, with varying degrees of success, but en-masse drying clearly proved faster than traditional interleaving of book pages with absorbent paper (Horton, 1967).

Key Terms in this Chapter

Remediation: The process or methods used in disaster recovery to improve a situation.

Triage: A step in disaster recovery operations in which collection material is sorted into categories based on severity of damage and possible treatment solutions.

Vacuum Freeze Drying: Method of drying library materials by placing them in a sealed chamber at freezing temperatures. A vacuum is pulled in the chamber, allowing ice crystals in the material to sublimate, thereby limiting distortion that may occur to library collections by the liquid phase of water.

Mitigation: Steps or actions taken to reduce the severity of a disaster event.

Sublimation: The physical process by which solid water, in the form of ice, passes into a gaseous state, in the form of vapor, without passing through the liquid state.

Salvage: A part of disaster recovery operations, encompassing the procedures and practices taken to reduce or eliminate damage to collection materials, typically by removing them from a disaster site.

Risk Assessment: The process to identify possible events or scenarios that may result in collection damage, determine how likely such events may be, and predict the effects of those events on collections. Risk assessment is best accomplished as part of the process of writing a disaster plan targeted to a specific institution.

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