In the basement with the leak diverters

I’m starting to feel like an pyromaniac, as I’m once again returning to the theme of library destruction.  With collection items  vulnerable to fire, flood and infestation, the possibility of disaster is something librarians need to think about, and indeed plan for: one survey showed that a massive 30% of libraries and archives had experienced some kind of disaster in the last 5 years. But hopefully this post will have a more positive spin than previous tales of woe, as my library is taking a very pro-active approach to disaster planning. This is undoubtedly one of the benefits of having an in-house conservation team who, along with our consultants Harwell, have arranged a series of sessions for staff in the theory and practice of disaster management.

Setting up the leak diverter

So it was that I found myself on one of the hottest days of the year, deep in a climate controlled basement playing with gaining practical knowledge of our big yellow leak diverters. First a word on the mixed bag of colleagues I was with – one of the fundamentals of the new approach is that the group of trainees should be as varied as possible. This is a lesson learnt from less fortunate libraries who have trained a bunch of conservators and collection managers  in disaster response only to find them all safely tucked up in bed when the flood/fire/plague of frogs was unleashed. So our group included not just the usual suspects, but also junior retrieval and security staff who visit the stacks regularly, as well as staff that work out-of-hours and some (like me) who just looked keen.

Planning to enable a quick response to emerging issues was the main theme. Reducing the extent and quantity of the damage is key and quick really needs to be quick – in a case study from the National Library of Scotland, a sprinkler system was said to have discharged 40,000 litres of water in 8 minutes. A prompt response, in most cases involving an external service provider, extends to the days after damage occurs. In the summer floods of 2007 the Hull library that managed to crate, list and freeze its affected items within 36 hours avoided the mould damage that would’ve meant page-by-page cleaning of its collection items, and this damage starts to occur in 3 short days.

Training was theoretical and practical. And with collections of books, archives, artwork, film and video spread across 14 collection stores, we certainly left with something to think about.

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