Harvard College Library-Report of Nancy M. Cline
Notable Events in the College Library Throughout the Past Year
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: