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Biddle's Great Flood: Where do we go from here?

April 23, 2009

It has now been ten months since the "Great Flood" in the Lewis Collection in Silverman Hall.  In January's blog I wrote how the flood began and the immediate steps that were taken to save the collection.

Since mid-November the books have been returning in batches of 100-130 boxes every Tuesday and Thursday. The books are usually returned in black plastic bags inside cardboard boxes.   The Access Services staff has been taking time from their usual tasks to unbox and reshelve the books as they return.  Since the books were not loaded into the boxes in perfect order, it takes a long time to reshelve the books.  If time permitted, the perfect solution would be to hire library temp agency, such as ProLibra, to pack and unpack the books. 

Upon their return we found that some books were a bit wider from the water even after freeze drying.  If the books fit tightly on the shelf before the flood, they usually would not fit back on the same shelf when returned.  We decided that this would be a valid reason to weed the collection, which involves pulling out duplicate copies and material damaged beyond use.  Ten months later, we have about 3/4ths of the collection either back on the shelves or in boxes located near the shelves where they belong.

Working space is a problem in the project.  The 130 boxes of books that return each time take up a lot of space and we prefer the vendor drop the boxes close to where we need to shelve them.  The aisles are narrow and we constantly need to work around the full boxes but also need space to leave the boxes as we empty them.  You can get an idea of the cramped working conditions by looking at a couple of pictures I recently took.

In just the first month that the books were out being treated, we had requests for 50 items by our faculty.  These requests had to be filled by borrowing books from Penn's main library,  Van Pelt, or by submitting a request through Inter Library Loan.

I'm optimistic that we will have the whole collection back in order and accessible by the end of the summer.