To that end, the Libraries formed a Collections Emergency Response Team. Led by Mary Miller, the Libraries’ Collection Management and Preservation Strategist, this team is engaged in updating and enhancing collections emergency response procedures for the Libraries and the Minnesota Library Access Center (administered by Minitex). University Librarian Wendy Lougee charged the team “with assessing collections emergency preparedness in the Libraries, overseeing emergency planning, and fostering a culture of preparedness in the Libraries through strategic communication, education, and hands-on training. In the event of an emergency involving collections, the team will provide leadership, advice, and assistance to the Libraries during the response and recovery phases.” I was invited—along with nearly a dozen of my colleagues—to be a member of this team.
Western States and Territories Preservation Assistance Service (WESTPAS). Julie is the former head of the preservation department at the University of California, San Diego and now serves as a preservation consultant. In addition to her work with WESTPAS, she is a trainer for the Foundation of the American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works (FAIC) Emergency Response for Cultural Institutions program, funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities and a member of the American Institute for Conservation Collections Emergency Response Team (AIC CERT).
We were instructed to wear “grubby” clothes, as we would be handling wet books and papers during our training. I was happy for the cautionary instructions. Our first day included a “stack assessment” exercise in Wilson Library. Portions of the stacks on the fourth floor were draped in different colors of crepe paper; blue indicated wet ranges of books, white indicated damp ranges. We divided into smaller teams and headed to an assigned area of the stacks. Once on site, our task was to assess and document the number damaged books, assign salvage priorities, note anything special about this portion of the collection, and create a sequence of response activities. These activities included activation of a telephone calling tree and notification of University facilities/emergency personnel, all designed to insure staff safety and a proper approach to an incident of this kind. In a debriefing session following this exercise, Julie emphasized the importance of an accurate assessment. The assessment drives much of what follows in terms of conservation treatments and other actions.
While the scenario (and its two injections) might seem unrealistic, we know from experience that such things could happen. We were presented with a robust set of circumstances that tested our situational awareness and previous training. One of the goals of the tabletop exercise was to put the draft of our current response plan through its paces, testing how well this document functioned under the stress of an active scenario. By the time we completed the exercise our copies of the response plan were littered with additional notations with suggestions for improved clarity or re-working. It was an extremely valuable drill that will result in a better plan.
Following a final debriefing, we concluded our training on collection assessment and salvage. I’m sure more training sessions and conversations will follow as we refine our emergency response plans for the collections. A special word of thanks goes to Mary Miller and other members of the staff for organizing this two-day session, and to Julie Page for her expertise in guiding our team toward better readiness and response. We hope such disastrous days will never come, but know at some point the inevitable will happen. The strength of our training and a commitment to developing a culture of preparedness will keep us vigilant and ready for such a day.
***** This post originally appeared on the departmental blog "Primary Sourcery" for Archives and Special Collections at the University of Minnesota.
I've taken a month break from blogging for a personal vacation and the start of the school year, but intend to resume regular weekly posts here starting next week. My "30th Year Reflections" series will end in October. From that point forward I'll blog about anything related to my work in special collections, rare books, and archives.