The University of Wisconsin-Superior’s Jim Dan Hill Library was among 16 campus buildings that were damaged by flooding on June 19-20. The library was one of the four buildings hit hardest by eight inches of rainfall in a 24 hour period, because it is both in a low-lying area of campus and connected to flooded maintenance tunnels. Most of the library’s collection of more than 200,000 volumes was damaged, though Lynne Williams, U.W.-Superior’s director of marketing and communications, told LJ, “We are hoping that we’ll be able to salvage 60-75 percent of them.”
Only those few books on the top shelf of the stacks escaped undamaged and were removed immediately, Williams said, along with the special collections, which were housed in a special climate controlled room on the second floor of the library. (The stacks, like most, were on the lower levels because of weight.) Estimated damage for the whole campus comes to at least $15 million so far; Williams didn’t know what share of that sum is for the library. Insurance will cover a majority of the damages.
Texas-based disaster recovery firm BMS CAT is handling the salvage efforts, which start, believe it or not, with more water: workers wash dirt from books, pack them tightly in boxes, stack them on pallets, and freeze them. Packing them tightly and keeping them wet keeps them from warping and expanding, while freezing stops microbial growth, according to Colin Young, BMS Cat’s project manager. They’re later freeze-dried in pressurized chambers, converting the water to vapor without passing through the liquid stage.
Seven trailer loads of potentially salvageable books have been frozen; once BMS-CAT freeze-dries a sample pallet and analyses the results, the university will decide how to handle the rest. “We have had good luck with books, but you never know exactly how they’re going to react until you see the sample,” said Craig Martin, regional director for BMS CAT and the site supervisor. Results are expected in late July.
All the books, salvageable or not, are now out of the library: Staff, employees, students and temporary workers have been sorting, scanning bar codes and logging damage details for the irretrievable titles, and those that have been inventoried are on their way to be recycled.
Deb Nordgren, campus library director, said the campus expects to fill gaps in its collection by replacing some books and journals with online subscriptions and digital versions. The current practice of sharing materials within the UW library system will likely increase as well, she said. However, Williams said, the college isn’t in a position to know how many gaps can be filled that way yet. “Once they’ve inventoried they’ll go back and do the assessment on what can be replaced electronically or in hard copy, but it’ll be at least a week before we have all the inventory on that.”
BMS-Cat brought their own crew and hired about 150 local temporary employees, many of them students, but there was still plenty of work for library staff. “A lot of our library staff had to work with the disaster recovery staff to identify books that had their covers torn off,” Williams said. “Our library staff played a very critical role” in both inventory and decision-making on what to replace.
Though the library building isn’t useable yet, the library staff is already hard at work in a temporary location identifying interlibrary loan and electronic resources to minimize the disruption for summer students and faculty. William said she’s hopeful that in the next couple of weeks library staff will be able to get back into the facility, at least the office and work space, if not the lower levels.
One thing that helped the recovery efforts was fast turnaround: according to Williams, the university’s chancellor and arch-chancellor started to assess the damage at midnight at the beginning of the rainfall. They contacted state agencies, which realized the magnitude of the unfolding disaster and acted immediately: “By nine the next morning we had the insurance adjuster and the head of the disaster recovery company on site,” Williams said.
The other factor that helped was the willingness of everyone to pitch in. Said Williams, “While disasters like this are never something you want to happen, when you see the community pull together, it’s a very powerful thing.”
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