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Biddle’s Lewis Collection: Soaking Up More than Knowledge

January 23, 2009

When you put a title in Biddle’s online catalog, LOLA, often you will see a result like the following: 

LEWIS          KB78.a8 U58c          ASK CIRC DESK

This means you need to go to the Circulation Desk and fill out a request to have the book pulled from our Lewis Collection in Silverman Hall.  Seems easy enough.  But what happens when disaster strikes?

On Wednesday, June 11th, 2008 water was discovered on the floor of the 5th floor stacks in the Lewis Collection in Silverman Hall.  During the night water had flowed across the floor and seeped down into the lower floors.  The books on the 3rd and 4th floors had absorbed water like sponges.  In some cases the books swelled so much, the ends of the metal shelves bent, the shelves dropped out from below, but the books still stayed up in the air!Once the flooding was discovered, University representatives from the Office of Risk Management and Insurance arrived to evaluate the situation and contacted Belfor, a remediation company that handles property restoration for the Penn.  Belfor set up fans and dehumidifers and began collecting and boxing the wet books, marking the boxes to indicate their location in the stacks.  By the following Wednesday, books were still being collected and boxed, fans and dehumidifers were still running.



After boxing up the books, Belfore then froze them to stop possible mold growth.  The books were then run through a freeze dry chamber and dried.  Once dry, mold cannot grow, since the main component to grow mold–moisture–is removed.  After the books are processed, they inspect them for growth and can then clean them with a special vaccuum cleaner called a HEPA vac.   Paintstaking and time-consuming, this process t is still being performed on some of the collection.The Library had expected to start receiving books back in a few weeks.  In late June, 288 boxes of books were ready to be returned, but a humidity report had to be run in the stacks before we could bring back the books.   The humidity analysis was completed in mid-July, but asbestos was found in the floor tiles that were damaged.  So, a bid was put out and in late August the asbestos abatement was done by a different contractor.    It was the end of October before the floor tiles were replaced and on November 12th five coats of wax were put over the new tiles.  On Tuesday, November 18th the first shipment of books was returned.  We now receive 120 boxes of books every Tuesday and Thursday.  We expect there to be just under 3,000 boxes total with anywhere from five to twenty books in a box.   We decided that our staff would unload the books so we can “fine tune” them as we shelve.  The remediation company boxes them slightly out of order, which slowed the reshelving process, but we expected that.  Some of the books are sad to look at but they are more useful that way then if we did not have them at all.   I had a little experience with this when i worked in a small US Department of Agriculture Research Library.  Our books stored in the basement were damaged when an outside drain became backed up and rainwater came under a door.   Fortunately the chemist were doing a freeze-drying project with vegetables and we put each book one by one in the freeze dryer they were using for the vegetables! If I were to give advice at this point, it would suggest that one number both the boxes and the shelves.  While our aisles are numbered in our storage library, each shelf does not have a unique number on it.  This means that the person who numbered the box and filled it with the wet books could use a different point of reference than the person unboxing the dry books.  You can see how this means that there might be shelving errors.Reconstriucting the Lewis Collection continues to be a work in progress.  But we look forward to restoring access to one of the great circulating legal monograph collections in the country–box by box.Some additional images that might interest you are after the jump.


Jordon, our Archivist, inspecting the damage to one of our older books.



The copy of Manuel Complet de Medecine Legale that Jordon was holding.  While not officially a “Rare Book”–it was published after 1850–it certainly is not something you’d find at any library.  Notice that the water stained the insides of the pages.  It’s still usable, though!



shelf_bad.jpgThe shelf on which Jordon found Medecine Legale.  You can see the water damage suffered by some of the books on their bindings.




 A range of shelves that was spared by the flood of ‘08.