Salvage of Water Damaged Library Materials - part 5


If the materials are to be frozen, prior arrangements should have been made to ship the packed materials immediately to freezing facilities. Packed materials must not be allowed to remain on or near the site for more than a few hours, since such delay will further increase the possibility of mold development. Before actual removal of the water-soaked material begins, lighting, fans, dehumidifiers, and all possible venting should be fully operational. All work surfaces should be covered with polyethylene sheeting. Areas selected for packing or drying should be prepared for the operation by emptying them of all unnecessary equipment and furniture.


Safety of the materials and future restoration costs will depend largely on the competence and dedication of the salvage crews. The work will be arduous, dirty, and often frustrating. Team leaders should not hesitate to dismiss careless and thoughtless workers. Experience has shown that well-disciplined crews having brief rest periods with refreshments about every hour and a half are the most efficient. Working salvage crews to exhaustion pays no dividends.


High priority should be given to salvaging the catalog and other records of the collection. Salvage operations should avoid any action that might remove or deface identifying marks and labels.

During the pre-recovery planning stage a decision needs to be made on whether or not to use a location number identification system which could be used after the material is returned from the drying operation to reassemble the collection in similar shelf order. There will be a need to identify and segregate materials which are very wet from partially wet; mold contaminated from uncontaminated; rare and sensitive items from the less rare and sensitive etc. If an orderly, efficient and safe recovery is to be achieved, together with a control over the choice of drying and other special measures needed to save rare and sensitive materials, a box coding system is indispensable.

At least one person should be assigned specific responsibility for making an inventory at each location where the materials are taken from the shelves and boxed. This person might also be given charge of supervising the boxing and box coding process.

Conveyor belts and human chains are normally used to remove large numbers of material from each shelf, pack them in corrugated boxes or plastic milk crates and to move them to the loading site for shipment to cold storage facilities. It is at this time that a great deal of additional damage and confusion can occur. The number of people involved in this operation and their behavior needs to be closely supervised. Try to initiate a rhythm when using human chains that keeps everyone busy without being over taxed. Too many helpers will hamper progress, encourage loafing and generally reduce the efficiency of the operation. It is highly desirable to instruct the team daily on the tasks to be carried out and to keep them informed as to the major objectives of the recovery operation and as to any changes that have been made to the master plan.

An efficient and dedicated work force needs to be provided with all the accouterments of human survival, such as regular rest periods, a place to eat, a convenience to wash and clean up and a immediate access to medical attention.

Manuscripts and other materials in single sheets create particularly difficult problems if they have been scattered. An indication of the approximate location in which they are found during the salvage operation may be extremely helpful at a later date. Materials should never be moved from the site in large batches or left piled on top of each other, either at the site or in adjacent temporary housing, since the excessive weight of water-affected books and paper records can lead to severe physical damage.

When flood-damaged books were removed from the Biblioteca Nazionale in Florence following the river flood disaster of 1966 substantial numbers were piled high outside the library building while awaiting shipment to drying facilities. This action caused significant damage to the books from the weight of water saturated volumes and lead to very high costs of post disaster restoration.

Disaster Preparedness Table of Contents