Flood Aftermath

Photo credit: The Des Moines Register (click photo to visit original site).

On August 11, cumulative, massive, midwestern thunderstorms caused the Squaw and Skunk Rivers in Ames, IA, to overflow their banks, creating the worst flooding on the Iowa State University campus since 1993.  Eight water mains broke throughout town, draining the municipal water towers and putting the potentially contaminated town water supply under a boil order.  Last night, the water ban was lifted, so Ames residents can once again drink, wash dishes, and do laundry with their tap water.

Preservation has been fielding calls from community members seeking information about how to salvage their own water-damaged books, paper, and photographs.  We highly recommend the ICPC Flood Recovery Booklet (click link for a downloadable PDF).

The Preservation Department has received about a dozen general collection books which were water-damaged at patrons’ homes and were returned to the library this morning, but otherwise, I’m relieved to report that the ISU Library collections remained safe throughout the extensive campus flooding.

Facilities Planning & Management’s General Services building was not so lucky.  The basement archives flooded, soaking tens of thousands of documents, blueprints, and other architectural plans, some of which date back to the turn of the century.  The affected materials included blue line drawings, blueprints, sepia diazo prints, photocopies, and hand-rendered drawings in a rainbow of media on parchment paper, tracing paper, linen, and machine-made wove paper.  About two-thirds of this collection had been digitized, or was born digital (in the case of CAD drawings).  Last Thursday, about 6,000 items, still in their waterlogged flat-file drawers, were transported to Parks Library for salvage.  We prioritized unscanned materials and historic blueprints or hand-drawn plans for the salvage operation.

The quantity of wet materials quickly overwhelmed the Conservation Lab.  We stacked fragile paper plans between large sheets of blotter, and hung smaller paper documents and Mylar architectural plans to dry from clotheslines.

Drying operation in the mechanical room.

Bob Kalvik, from Facilities Planning & Management, graciously offered us two, large mechanical rooms on the fourth floor of Parks Library in which to spread out materials for drying.  Having these large, non-public spaces on the same floor as the Conservation Lab was a tremendous help as we monitored the drying operations.  We filled the mechanical room floors with pallets lined with thick blotter, and laid paper-based materials flat to dry.  Mylar drawings seemed to dry fastest when hung on clotheslines, which we strung up over the pallets like an enormous spider web.  Large pedestal fans, oscillating fans, and dehumidifiers kept the air dry-ish and circulating.

Documents drying on ventilation filter.

When we ran out of pallets and blotter, we covered the floor with rolls of ventilation filter (provided by Bob) to use as a drying support.  The filter has a substantial loft of about 2-3 inches, and allows excellent airflow underneath the documents.  However, in an ideal situation, we would recommend lining the filter with Remay, since we’re not sure what it is made of, and it seems to be impregnated with some kind of silicon to trap particulates.

We’re now sorting and prioritizing stacks of documents for further treatment.  We’ve sorted the materials into categories according to their primary support material and media, and will continue to sort according to the extent of damage and the types of treatment necessary.

Working through the weekend, our staff and intrepid Library volunteers managed to keep the wet materials well-ventilated until they dried, and we’re pleased to report the only mold growth was on about 2 dozen rolled plans which came to us already moldy.  A big thank-you to everyone who assisted us with the rush to salvage these waterlogged materials.  We’ll continue to report on our progress (and, no doubt, ask for further help as needed!) as the next phase of recovery continues.


  1. *sigh* Looks like you did a great job with the resources you had. I will have to remember the mechanical room idea. Your stats are going to look great this month!

  2. Super job on difficult materials. I like the ventilation filter idea. Have to keep that (and the Reemay) in mind. Could I have permission to use some of the damaged materials images in training I do for NEDCC? They are some great “don’t forget to worry about this” sort of images.

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