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The E-Sylum: Volume 11, Number 28, July 13, 2008, Article 10

PETE SMITH ON LIBRARY DISASTER RECOVERY

Inspired by our previous items on restoring damaged books, Pete Smith submitted the following item on library disaster recovery. -Editor
In one of my previous jobs, I was a supervisor in the records center of a large international law firm. We had two clear water flooding events caused by the broken pipes of other building tenants. I had a general knowledge of disaster recovery plans. This is what I recall.

Floods have recently hit the Mississippi River and tributaries. These flood waters include mud, raw sewage, petroleum products, agricultural chemicals and whatever else is released into the flood. Any library inundated with river water will probably discard any damaged volumes and replace them. Cleanup is impossible or too expensive unless a volume is very rare and valuable. Just handling the wet, polluted and moldy books can be a hazard.

Clear water flooding may occur from broken pipes, leaking roofs, open windows or overflowing appliances. Some damage is immediate and irreversible. Books or documents with water damage may develop mold within a couple of days. The solution is to freeze these items as quickly as possible.

In some cases freeze drying may be possible. The documents should be stored with good air circulation and low humidity. You canít just put them on a pallet with shrink wrap. Books should be on open racks so air can circulate around all sides. This takes equipment that is not available to most amateurs. Freeze drying alone is usually not enough. Freezing buys time for more aggressive techniques.

Books or documents may be washed in clean water. Book pages are gently separated and absorbent sheets inserted between the pages. Books may be pressed to keep the pages flat. This requires time and labor and becomes expensive. Professional restoration may be more expensive than replacement.

What can an amateur do? Freezing will probably do no damage and give you time. Absorbent sheets and pressing may help. Once pages are damp rather than wet, books can be put in sunlight with good air circulation. These processes require time and patience. Readers of the E-Sylum may be interested in a large record center disaster that happened in Minnesota while I was working in the field. This happened in a large off-site private records center with several clients. A fork lift driver dented the steel leg that supported shelves about thirty feet high. Several hours later the leg failed and pulled down the entire section of shelves. Rows of shelves fell like dominoes until the entire room was a pile of rubble. On one end the files broke through the wall and damaged a million dollars of printing equipment in the next room.

In theory, no page was lost or destroyed. However, medical records and x-ray films from broken boxes were mixed with records from other clients. What happens when confidential medical records get mixed with confidential legal files from another client? The company I worked for was brought in to try to sort things out (although I was not on this project). The company that ran the records center did not survive. The liability they incurred far exceeded their insurance coverage.

The same kind of disaster could affect a coin collection or numismatic library. What if all your books and periodicals were dumped in a single pile? What if a coin collection was taken out of envelopes with everything dumped into one box? Collectors can lose sleep thinking about ways this could happen.



Wayne Homren, Editor

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