By Leslie Meyer, Essentia Health Library Services Duluth, MN
I was thrilled to attend the “Enhancing Quality Staff in Changing Times” symposium at the University of Minnesota on May 20th. I was especially looking forward to the workshop “Emergency Response: Salvaging Wet Collections,” as our library has experienced flooding in the recent past. Every spring we do our best to anticipate potential flooding events, but we don’t have a lot of information about the best way to deal with materials once they have been exposed to water. once materials have been exposed to water, time is of the essence (mold beings to develop within 48 to 72 hours, and some types of paper become irreversibly fused together only six hours after being exposed to water), so advance knowledge, planning, and preparation is key.

The speaker, Mary Miller, Director of Collection Management at the University of Minnesota libraries, had a ton of information to share with us. I learned that the deterioration process can be halted by putting some types of wet items into a freezer (not VHS tapes, however), which can buy time and allow library staff to determine the best plan of action depending on the number of items that have been exposed to water. I also learned that items left out to air dry can still develop mold even if they appear to be completely dry. She suggested that books appearing to be completely dry should be left out for an extra week just in case. Ms. Miller also suggested affordable materials that can be used to separate pages during the salvage process, such as ordinary paper towels, regular copier paper, wax paper, and even drinking straws, and suggested items to keep on hand in an emergency kit (fans, paper towels, tape, plastic bags) so that the library staff isn’t scrambling to locate needed items when an emergency occurs.

One surprising thing I learned was that the ambient humidity in a flooded space can damage materials even if the materials haven’t been directly exposed to water. Books on the top shelf, for instance, may not have come into contact with water, but they can still be damaged simply by being left in a room that has been flooded. Humidity will cause a book’s pages to swell so much that they will often simply “pop” off the shelves when they expand beyond the space on the shelf.

It was a great presentation and I learned a lot of useful information. I hope that the information I learned will be helpful not only to our library, but perhaps to other hospital departments that experience flooding events and need assistance with salvaging their important materials and documents.