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Harvard College Library-Report of Nancy M. Cline

Notable Events in the College Library Throughout the Past Year

Notable Events


In early March 2008 heavy rain caused a large drainpipe to rupture in Pusey Library, with over 500 gallons of water pouring into the Harvard Theatre Collection stacks.  At risk were hundreds of original drawings of costume and set designs, hand painted theatrical backdrops, and early American manuscripts and books, including the Emily Dickinson family library from Houghton Library. Damage to materials was less extensive than it might have otherwise been, as due to the flood watch set by the National Weather Service, the Harvard College Library had arranged for security staff to conduct additional tours of the stacks over the weekend to monitor the libraries for water leaks. As a result, when the pipe burst, one of those guards discovered and reported it immediately. Within twenty minutes of the report, HCL Operations was on-site, quickly followed by the Library Collections Emergency Team (LCET). HCL Operations concentrated on stemming the flow of water from the pipe, vacuuming standing water from the affected floors of the library, and lowering humidity levels in the building. Members of the custodial crew sprang quickly into action by drawing upon a well-stocked emergency supply closet containing wet vacs, dehumidifiers, folding tables, sheets of plastic, paper towels, and myriad other supplies anticipated for such emergencies. A moving crew was brought in to move the rain-soaked backdrops and prepare a staging area where they could be unrolled to dry. At the same time, the LCET team, assisted by Houghton LCET team members and staff members from the Office of the College Librarian, moved collections out of danger and began treating damaged materials.

The LCET is on call 24 hours a day to provide assistance in emergencies that threaten University library collections. Rapid response in a water emergency is essential not only because of water damage to the collection and building, but also because of the serious potential for mold. At room temperature there is only a small window of time for drying and dehumidifying the environment before mold begins to grow. Once it sets in, every single piece in the entire area must be disinfected and thoroughly vacuumed to remove mold spores. While water-damaged materials can be treated, mold often renders them impossible to salvage. This situation would have created a particularly difficult job because of the nature of the rare materials stored in that part of the library. The building infrastructure would have required the same time-intensive treatment. Fortunately, the library response teams beat the clock on all counts, thus saving the collections from irreparable damage.

The Library has put many procedures in place to be able to respond to these types of events that are out of our control and pose great risk to the collections and facilities. The events of the Pusey flood have affirmed that our efforts have prepared us well to handle these major incidents when they arise.

In addition to the Pusey flood, other significant events in HCL this past year included:

  • In October 2007, Houghton Library hosted the annual meeting of the Theodore Roosevelt Association. The events included a symposium on “Theodore Roosevelt in Boston and on the World Stage,” an extensive exhibition of photographs, documents, and cartoons from Harvard’s collection, and a “Walking Tour of TR’s Harvard” led by President Roosevelt’s great-grandson, Tweed Roosevelt.
  • In December 2007, the report, Sound Directions: Best Practices for Audio Preservation, co-authored by Loeb Music Library and Indiana University staff was published electronically and drew both national and international attention for its comprehensive and candid approach to the field of audio preservation at both the curatorial and technological levels. The report, the result of two years of research and development funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities, provides solid grounding for institutions pursuing audio preservation either in-house or in collaboration with an outside vendor. The Sound Directions software was released in June 2008.
  • Throughout the year, HCL Information Technology Services led the implementation across HCL of the Harvard University Enterprise Security Policies, a set of guidelines established to provide direction on the protection of Harvard’s technical resources and proper handling of confidential information by individuals at Harvard.
  • In June 2008, the Binding and Shelf Preparation (BSP) division of HCL Conservation Services consolidated two units in one facility at 625 Massachusetts Avenue in a move designed to foster a more efficient working environment. This will allow staff to more readily share knowledge and expertise and to streamline their workflow. As a result of the space gained in Widener Library by the BSP consolidation at 625 Massachusetts Avenue, HCL Imaging Services was able to expand its capacity by adding two digitization workstations and an evening shift.
  • During the past year, the Harvard Film Archive (HFA) purchased a state-of-the-art multiformat video deck, which greatly expands its capacity to screen the full range of international video formats. In addition, the HFA coordinated several in-person appearances by filmmakers presenting their work.
  • A sampling of the exhibitions, symposia, and publications across HCL included: Cabot Library’s exhibition, “From Soundings to Sidescan Sonar: Mapping the Ocean Floor”; Tozzer Library’s exhibition, “Feeding the Ancestors: Tlingit Carved Spoons”; the publication, “Golden Muse: The Loeb Music Library at 50” in the Harvard Library Bulletin; at Houghton Library, the October 2008 international three-day symposium on “Ambrosiana at Harvard: New Sources of Milanese Chant” and the exhibition, “Decorated Papers from the Collection of Rosamond B. Loring”; and the Judaica Division in Widener Library co-sponsored with the Harvard Center for Jewish Studies the April 2008 lecture, “Undzer Kaimas (Our Village): Yiddish as a Cross-Cultural Medium in the Lithuanian Shtetl” and published Lionel Reiss: Catalog of a Collection of his Art in the Harvard College Library.