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Training Harvard Library Staff to Respond to Wet-Book Emergencies

A timely response to water emergencies is key to preservation of library collections. To prepare Harvard librarians to respond effectively in the event of disaster, the Library Collections Emergency Team (LCET) recently held a collections salvage training session at the New England Deposit Library (NEDL) on Wednesday, October 29, 2003.

Jan Merrill-Oldham, Harvard's Malloy-Rabinowitz Preservation Librarian in the College Library and the University Library, stated, "Our goal is to ensure that Harvard has a critical mass of professionals across the University who are prepared to address collections emergencies in real time."

According to Merrill-Oldham, the Library Collections Emergency Team, or LCET (which is co-managed by the University Library's Weissman Preservation Center and the College Library's Preservation and Imaging Services), replicated a water emergency in the parking lot of the New England Deposit Library on Western Avenue. Shelves of deaccessioned, donated books had been soaked with water for over 10 hours. When the 30 invited participants from seven of the University's nine faculties arrived at NEDL, they experienced firsthand the extensive damage that can be caused by water and the shock that can be evoked by a water disaster. Sessions followed in which the proper salvage techniques for books, flat paper, film and photographs, and electronic media were demonstrated. In the afternoon the group practiced the salvage techniques on the waterlogged books.

"The purpose of the event is to train library personnel to respond to water emergencies as efficiently as possible—to know when they can handle something, when they need to call in a professional disaster recovery team, and how to describe the problem if they need to contact the pros. Working with staff from across the University builds a network of responders who may be called on for advice and assistance," said Ethel Hellman, collections conservator for HCL's Widener Library and cochair of LCET.

LCET is a University-wide group of 16 conservators and preservation librarians that is cochaired by Hellman and Jane Hedberg, the Weissman Center's preservation program officer. One recent LCET initiative is the wet-book emergency hotline that is staffed 24 hours a day by on-call LCET members. To reach the LCET hotline in a wet-books emergency, call 617-240-2500.

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Last modified on Friday, January 16, 2004.