"A library doesn't need windows. A library is a window." – Stewart Brand

Mar 25, 2015

Wet books!

My library is currently in an older structure. It was a rough winter up here. There were ice dam issues all over the region.

Have you guessed where I'm going yet?

Oh yes. A few weeks ago, we had a leak in the stacks. Although I am by no means trained in book preservation, I thought I'd share the story and lessons learned here in case they're useful to someone else.

First, let's discuss the scope of the problem. We were actually relatively lucky. The water came down the inside of a wall and seeped out starting at the top of a short built-in bookcase 4 or 5 shelves high. It wet the bottom of several oversized books shelved along the top of the bookcase and dripped/leaked down the shelves. The bookcase is only about a foot or 18" wide, so the damage was confined to a relatively narrow area. Most of the water went off the bottom of the bookcase into the carpet, which was soaked through for a couple of feet; a little leaked along the very bottom shelf onto an adjacent shelf and dampened a few books.

My/our initial response upon discovering the leak:
  • Get help. I called to my colleague in the back room and ran upstairs to get a volunteer who was doing a nonessential task.
  • Get the books out of the water, and triage. My colleague and I did a rough sort of books into those that were okay, those that were a little wet, those that were quite wet but possibly savable, and those that were an immediate loss. All told, there were about 20 books that were an obvious loss, and another 30-40 that would need to be dried and evaluated.
  • Preserve what's possible. I ferried the books that were wet-but-savable to the volunteer to get paper towels inserted between the pages. (This is a trick I picked up from friends taking an archival preservation class in grad school. We went through several rolls.) Too-wet-to-save got tossed on a shelf to be inventoried and discarded later. Books that were damp but not wet enough to have to be dealt with immediately also got tossed on a separate shelf, to be dealt with when the wetter ones were done. Books that were wet along the covers under the Mylar got their covers taken off ASAP.
  • Sop up water continuing to leak in and leave paper towels there to absorb additional seepage.
  • Contact facilities.

In the subsequent weeks, I've been:
  • Drying the books initially interleaved with paper towels. We have heat/AC vents at the bottom of several shelves and they provide nice airflow. I've been propping books up in front of them and fanning the pages out, a few at a time, till things are dry. Dried books go under a nice big stack of heavy oversize books to flatten out again, which has been working surprisingly well.
  • Assessing the books that were only damp, and interleaving with paper towels/drying out in front of vents as needed.
  • Creating an inventory of what got wet. Thank goodness for Evergreen, which made this really easy - a volunteer scanned everything into a bucket, then I chose the columns/fields I needed, exported to a .csv, and saved it to Excel. This is very useful for our insurance claim. I could even include the price listed in our ILS for each book - though that isn't always the same as list price, so we're going through Ingram to check for current prices and whether a given book is still available.
  • Still yet to happen: actually going through, book by book, and finalizing discards in the ILS/determining what I'm actually going to replace.

Next post: Lessons learned!

Feb 26, 2015

Catching up

It appears to have been nearly a year since I last posted. Goodness gracious.

I hope to have more time to post in the future because I am no longer spending 3 hours per day in the car getting to and from work. That's right... I got a new job! (New commute is in the 30-40 minute range and I am loving that, thank you very much.) In October, I started work as the Adult Services Librarian in Hopkinton, MA.

It's a positive move, though bittersweet in many ways. I learned so much in my four years at Howe Library and left behind many wonderful colleagues. But this job is going to teach me a lot of new things too, and my new co-workers are welcoming, dedicated, and hardworking. I'm also pleased to be geographically closer to some of my friends and family and back in the general area where I grew up. (I got to re-use my old Minuteman Library Network card from ca. 1991 when getting an account at my new hometown library! It was very exciting.)

Overall, this new position is a step up for me in terms of responsibility. Before, though I was planning programs fairly autonomously, I was one of a department of several librarians under a department head. Now I'm the "head" of the Adult Services department (of one), working immediately under my director and taking on some of the kinds of things that might be done by an assistant director if we had one. Since I ultimately want to be a library director, this means I'm getting some good chances to observe, learn, and do things that will give me valuable experience going forward. I've got a very supportive director who tries to include me in a lot of things, which is great!

Here are some of things, large and small, that I'm involved in:
  • Perhaps the biggest: we're about to be renovated and substantially expanded. I came in after the town approvals were dealt with but I'm getting to participate in lots of planning and logistics related to renovating the building, moving to a temporary space, etc. It's fascinating work and I'm really pleased to be able to "ride along" on a major building project before having to actually be in charge of one.
  • Substantial weeding of the nonfiction collection, preparatory to moving. I honestly really love weeding. It's so satisfying to remove the old, worn out, irrelevant materials and have a collection that looks shiny and fresh and interesting.
  • We relaunched our eNewsletter using Vertical Response (we were using Bookletters previously; I only had to do a couple of newsletters that way but I was deeply unimpressed). It seems that these were sent sporadically before; I've established a standard once-per-month schedule.
  • I've started doing displays! This is something I didn't have much time/opportunity to do at my previous job so I've been having a lot of fun with it.
  • Collection development. We have what is to me a somewhat odd system for collection development here - something for a later post, perhaps. I'm in charge of collecting everyone's suggestions, adding some of my own, and doing the actual ordering for adult books, DVDs, and music.
  • Programs - this is similar work to what I was doing previously, just in a different library. I'm still having fun with it, though it's much less of my job than it was before.
  • Managing technology, with the assistance of town IT. One of the more frustrating elements of the job when things aren't working properly (our computers were just down for nearly a week due to seeming malicious activity, so this is particularly fresh in my mind). But I get to learn things like how to re-image a computer and burnish other skills and knowledge that are underdeveloped or rusty, which is good. We've got a very friendly and helpful IT guy, which is an absolute blessing.
  • Reference work, of course! Volume is variable but usually pretty light. I do almost no readers' advisory, which I'd like to change - but it's hard because the reference desk is a bit out of the way and people usually chat with the circulation staff (who are fabulous readers' advisors) about books up front.
There's lots of other things, but that's just off the top of my head.

It's been an adjustment - Hopkinton is a much smaller library than Howe and in many ways a less formal/formalized one as well. It took me a little while to really suss out the culture. But I'm learning a lot, really enjoying what I do and the people I work with, and looking forward to the next several years - it will be a very exciting time as the library grows!