Saving the Books

When I arrived the morning of May 20th, I was met with a flurry of activity. Over the previous weekend, a small drip had made a big mess in the reference section of the reading room. Since it was so small and over the weekend, we didn’t notice it until it had reached several books. I immediately headed to the conference room to do damage control.

Good news first: only a few books were beyond saving. The water in its slow creep hadn’t had time to do much damage. Plus most of the books were large, heavy reference books, with hardcovers that actually kept the pages more or less above the flood. Those that had been hit were also easy-to-replace, and the books with wet covers could be rebound. All in all, not a worst-case scenario.

However, there was some work to do. In order to keep the moisture from seeping and staying in the books, thus creating a mold problem and disfiguring the books, we had to dry them out.  To do this, we placed paper towels in between the pages that were damper than others, and set every book standing up facing a fan to dry out the book right down to its spine.

Exactly what it looked like. From http://artfullyarrangeddisarray.blogspot.com

Exactly what it looked like. From http://artfullyarrangeddisarray.blogspot.com

It took 4 of us about 4 hours to collect the books, carefully inspect them, decide which ones needed additional help, set them up, and monitor their improvement. In both my internship and classes we spend a lot of time discussing preservation and techniques used when working to quickly salvage a damaged collection, but it was the first time I had ever put these teachings to practice. I can’t say I enjoyed it – after all these were books on the line, and I would never ever wish them harm – but it was a learning experience. The quick thinking of the Burke library staff, their calm demeanor, and instant evaluation of the situation allowed a lot of books to be saved.

We are currently double-checking the shelves to make sure the leak has been thoroughly sealed and won’t damage any more books. If you see a library staff member, thank them for the work they did to save the reference books you need!

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