When the Dam Breaks:
Salvaging Water-Damaged Books

What Else? Other Factors to Keep in Mind

During an area-wide disaster, such as the one faced in Corning, the library will not be the only service in need of help. In addition to material supplies (such as boxes, freezer paper for wrapping books, pumps, etc), the salvage team may find it difficult to enlist the aid of people aside from the usual staff, as extra hands will be needed all over the disaster-struck area. Further, the local companies that the library staff was planning to turn to for supplies, freezer space, etc., may find themselves unable to help. It is important for those creating a disaster plan to have more than just one supplier or service provider listed as a contact. The staff at the Corning Museum was able to find freezer space reasonably close to town, as nothing outside the valley appears to have suffered from the flood (Martin, 235). However, disasters are not always so localized. Considering suppliers from well outside the local area can be helpful, especially in the wake of large-scale disasters, such as earthquakes, which can leave large areas devastated.

Other situations can also prevent previously agreed upon arrangements from functioning according to plan. For example, the plan at the public library in Wichita Falls, Texas was for wet books to be frozen at the local ice company ("Roof leak", 1000). When the roof leaked, however, this arrangement fell apart as the ice company had just received a large shipment of ice and had no room for the library's books. In another example, George and Naslund explain that their "Dehumidifiers proved inoperable owing to the fact that the coils froze completely even at 65F [18.3C]" (255). Equipment can fail for a variety of reasons, as can the electrical system that powers them. Relying solely on tools such as fans and dehumidifiers can prove difficult if the electricity fails.

One issue that deserves more attention that it is commonly given, is that of the health and safety of the staff and volunteers involved in a salvage operation. For example, Waters mentions only "that well- disciplined crews having brief rest periods with refreshments about every hour and a half are the most efficient" (Waters, Removal). Overlooked issues include the potential toxicity of mould, hazards surrounding electricity and water, as well as the physical effects of bending, lifting, and carrying heavy material for extended periods of time.

Flood waters often come from unclean sources, such as a river overflowing its banks or a backed up sewer system. This water is often contaminated and should be treated with caution, as should any materials that come in to contact with such water. At North Dakota State University, for example, staff and volunteers were evacuated from the library when the water that flooded the building tested positive for contaminants (Flagg, 16). Further, as the power and ventilation in the building had been shut down, the air was also unsafe. Basements are frequently the locations of floods, however they are prone to bad air circulation, and the safety of the staff must be given the highest priority at all times.

The above are only some of the things that the salvage team will be faced with immediately following a water-related disaster. The list of potential issues is long, and might include:

In addition to these threats, dangers, and concerns, there is the ongoing problem of mould. Walls, carpeting, ventilation systems, furniture, and even other books can all harbor mould spores anxious to attack damaged and undamaged books alike. Various treatments, including fungicidal fogging (Spawn, 246) and radiation (Lunde, 7) have been used to kill mould on affected items and throughout the library and its collection, however not all methods will be available at all locations and times. Sally Buchanan reports that after the Stanford Library flood in 1978, fumigating for mildew was not an option as "The venting of such massive amounts of chemicals as would be required was not safe" and failed to meet air pollution control standards (539). Waters reports that the use of fungicides has become a controversial subject, because of the potential dangers to workers and to treated materials (Waters)[5].

[5] Please see the 4th paragraph.

© 2006 Stacey Bissell
Originally written for LIS 598, August 2005
Adapted for LIS 600, March 2006
School of Library and Information Studies
University of Alberta