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Water Emergency Workshop

Lauren Telepak and Priscilla Anderson provide a recap of a recent workshop on library collections emergencies.


October 26, 2016—Water rained down all night on books, documents, and AV materials as part of an emergency response workshop hosted by Harvard Library Preservation Services. This literally and figuratively immersive experience gave library staff a chance to handle wet material and to practice making important decisions that can protect people and collections from further harm when disaster strikes. No Harvard collections were harmed: the sacrificial materials came from unneeded donations and discards from a JSTOR project.  

Demonstrations in techniques for covering shelves with plastic sheeting and for moving large, wet items out of harm’s way were complemented by lively discussion panels. Attendees heard from experts in FAS Operations, Environmental Health, Safety and Emergency Management, Harvard University Police Department, Harvard Library Access Services, and the Frances Loeb Library, Harvard Graduate School of Design. The experts emphasized a few key points: 

  • Assessing personal safety comes first. Don’t step in a puddle unless you know the electricity is off and keep an eye out for falling ceiling tiles.
  • Communicate quickly with Operations or Facilities staff who can stop the flow of water and dry out the building. 
  • Knowing how much and what type of collections are damaged helps when calling the Library Collections Emergency Team at 617-240-2500. LCET provides immediate advice on how to prevent further damage, and if needed, on-site response to help determine next steps for recovering wet collections.  

The day ended with a presentation by a trauma specialist to help the audience understand and cope with the stress of emergency situations.  Recognizing stress symptoms in yourself and others coupled with frequent, friendly, and funny breaks provide much needed stress relief and improves decision-making. 

By Lauren Telepak, Collections Conservator, and Priscilla Anderson, Senior Preservation Librarian, Preservation Services. 

Published on November 16, 2016.