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Planning for Emergencies; Saving Wet Books

Library Collections Emergency Team hosts ‘Collections Salvage Workshop.’
October 9, 2012Pipes break. Windows leak. Water bottles spill. Hurricanes strike. Books, film, photographs, papers and audio-visual materials can potentially be damaged when a water incident occurs in a library. On October 5, Harvard’s Library Collections Emergency Team (LCET) shared steps staff can take to salvage and preserve materials.
The Library Collections Salvage Workshop is held about every two years, and features presentations on how to salvage wet materials and how to document efforts in addition to hands-on training. “Our goal is to have trained staff members in as many of Harvard’s libraries as possible,” said Franziska Frey, Malloy-Rabinowitz Preservation Librarian and head of Preservation, Conservation and Digital Imaging Services. “You can do your best to avoid disasters, but the reality is that an organization like Harvard with multiple libraries will experience water incidents every year.”
In the morning, participants and presenters ventured outside to find six shelves full of soaking books. The books were discarded and donated by Grafton Public Library and the JSTOR project.
“Seeing damaged books is an emotional experience for librarians,” said Jane Hedberg, senior preservation program officer in the Weissman Preservation Center and co-chair of LCET. “Librarians don’t do what we do for the money or the glory—it’s for the love of the materials. When there is an emergency, it’s distressing.”
“During the initial response to an emergency, it is more important to think than to act—make sure all the people are safe, the collections are secure and the source of the water is turned off,” said Priscilla Anderson, collections conservator at Baker Library.
“One of the most effective aspects of these workshops is building a sense of community among the individual libraries and LCET. We want to emphasize the importance of having an emergency preparedness plan and make sure that everyone knows we’re here to help them create it and follow through with its implementation,” said Hedberg.
For Frey, one of the most powerful aspects of the workshop is showing library staff what wet library materials look like—so that they don’t panic when there is an actual incident.
“It can be shocking,” Frey said. “It is helpful to have actually seen and touched wet library materials in a controlled setting before having to act during a real event.”
The Library Collections Salvage Workshop was organized by:

  • Priscilla Anderson, Collections Conservator, Baker Library; incoming LCET Co-Chair
  • Heather Caldwell, Head of Collections care; current LCET Co-Chair
  • Jane Hedberg, Senior Preservation Program officer at Weissman Preservation Center; current LCET Co-Chair
  • Todd Pattinson, Collections Conservator, Harvard College Library; incoming LCET Co-Chair

The workshop presenters were:

  • Heather Caldwell, Head of Collections Care
  • Todd Pattison, Collections Conservator for the Harvard College Library
  • Deborah Mayer, Helen H. Glaser Conservator for the Weissman Preservation Center
  • Brenda Bernier, Head of the Weissman Preservation Center
  • Elizabeth Walters, Program Officer for Audiovisual Materials
  • Priscilla Anderson, Collections Conservator, Baker Library

Learn more about the LCET here.
View photos of the event here.