CPR for wet books

As our airconditioning systems are cranking away in the summer heat and humidity, creating condensation build-up on some interior pipes and ducts, as the 2010 hurricane season gets into full swing off the southern/southeastern coasts of the continental U.S., and as many parts of the country experience weekly thunderstorms, here’s some helpful information from Heritage Preservation about how to try to save the lives of books that get wet.

The Summer newsletter from Heritage Preservation highlights their “How to Save Wet Books” page, which has short videos and text about how to treat wet books, as well as some very helpful tips at the bottom of the page about how to prioritize and how to stay safe during the process.  Who’d have thought that sometimes part of saving a wet book is to get it even wetter?

Life support for print materials

While many/most libraries are decreasing the number of print materials they maintain, news reports indicate that the current economic woes are leading many users back to libraries to borrow books rather than buying books online.  Another effect of the financial crises affecting our institutions is that there is often no funding available to replace damaged or lost print materials. 

Just recently when we met with NN/LM Pacific Northwest staff and their State Coordinators for emergency preparedness, we heard a story of a hospital librarian who had recently reported to her State Coordinator about water damage to a book truck of new books.  This one book truck held her major print purchase for the year, and there would most likely not be money to replace the books that got wet.  Considering all these indicators of the “long tail” of the need for print materials in libraries,  I’ve been reviewing the resources we list to aid in preserving print in the event of water damage, fire, etc.  The right side menu bar here lists many of them and there is a wealth of great information available.

Here is a document I found today from the American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works (AIC) that deals specifically with caring for print books.  The brochure is well written, and gives a good overview of information that has been de-emphasized in many libraries these days, but might well come in handy as librarians and volunteers with limited or no training for conservation or preservation try to keep their paper resources alive as long as possible.

Much of the AIC website is intended for professional conservators, but the “Caring for Your Treasures” series of publications contains lots of helpful information for the public, sort of the “Consumer Health” portion of their site.  AIC’s Disaster Response & Recovery page is also worth a look for information on a wide range of types of materials and web sites of interest.

Preparedness pays off: two stories from the news

Boston University’s online newspaper contains an article today about how the Galveston National Laboratory at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, TX weathered Hurricane Ike with flying colors, despite the beating taken by the island as a result of the storm. There is a really interesting account from their associate director of research, who said that “the positive outcome was no stroke of luck, but the result of wise engineering and a comprehensive emergency plan that includes a long-term weather-tracking strategy.” She also noted that “preparedness is attainable, and it works.”

At the University of Hawaii, roof repair work led to some major water leaking into their library. The account in the “Star Bulletin” today underlines how a quick response, based on excellent preparedness activities, can minimize damage and speed recovery. Based on their experiences with major flooding in 2004, the library has a well-developed disaster response team, who was actively watching for damage from the heavy rains, had the needed supplies on hand, knew what to do with wet materials and where to put them, and had a salvage company on site quickly to restore air quality and help with cleanup.

News reports of flooding:



It’s nice to hear that preparedness efforts really do pay off–a huge return on a relatively small investment!

Free video from Heritage Preservation

Heritage Preservation has produced a video that you can view free of charge from its web site, which demonstrates the basics of salvaging water-damaged materials.  They are providing the video in response to the recent flooding in the midwest, and in addition to describing and showing salvaging processes, it notes the things we need to be cautious about before wading in to try and save our collections.  Check out their online Bookstore–they offer a “disaster combo” of their Field Guide to Emergency Response and their Salvage Wheel, both of which are valuable assets to our preparedness resources (see the link to their site in the right side menu).  The DVD which comes with the Field Guide includes the content of the free video plus much other information, even giving tips on how to deal with wildlife which may find its way into your building after a disaster (probe with a long stick before reaching into a dark area…!).  While most of us probably don’t think of ourselves as conservators, the information from Heritage Preservation might at least help us know what NOT to do until the professionals arrive!

Points to Ponder: MSU Library’s Flood

Michael Boer posted a second article about the water damage at the Montana State University’s Library (see the Comment below the “Water Damage…” post). Here are some points to ponder that we can glean from the article and hopefully use as “lessons learned” in our own disaster planning.

  • this is the second burst pipe incident in a week, and library staff have already spent a week trying to clean up and salvage the rare materials that were damaged a week ago. Lesson: we all need help sometimes. Two incidents in a row, with the second being worse than the first, is beyond what most of us plan for or are equipped to deal with.
  • Library Dean, Tamara Miller said that they began recovery immediately, and that “getting organized was my first thought.” Lesson: get organized before you start the process–have a plan in place, have supplies on hand, know who to call for help with salvaging and clean up.
  • MSU’s library kept their essential services up and running–their online resources were still available, including class resources for faculty and students, the classes that would have been taught in the library were re-located to other buildings, and they continued to provide Reference services. Lesson: a good example for all of us who are working on service continuity plans!
  • two commercial salvage/recovery companies are already involved; a local company helping with clean-up, and a Texas-based company sending a freezer truck to remove items to be freeze-dried. Lesson: if possible, develop a relationship with a commercial recovery company (see links here on the Toolkit) as part of your planning process.
  • the fire sprinkler system was installed only eight years ago, with safeguards in place for potential pipe leaks, but this is the third incident of a frozen pipe that burst and flooded in the library. Lesson: even relatively new systems can fail, and often the source is inside the building rather than on the roof or flooding only on the ground floor.
  • extreme weather caused the failure of the sprinkler system in areas where the damage was not anticipated, so a combination of unforeseen factors contributed to the failure. Lesson: sometimes our best efforts aren’t enough to prevent a disaster.
  • water came into the library for 20 minutes, at about 120 gallons per minute (2,400 gallons). An alarm had sounded, but even so, it took 20 minutes to get the water turned off. Lesson: water is the most likely cause of damage to library collections and facilities, and it seems to often get in when the library is closed. This 20 minute turnaround was fast, considering that staff were probably not in the library at the time, but 20 minutes is a long time when water is pouring in at 120 gallons per minute.

The quote from Tamara Miller says it all: “It’s really hard to look at. And still, I know it will be fine.” Great job, Renne Library, and best wishes for a speedy recovery!