It’s Raining in Special Collections

On Thursday, December 27 at 9:45 am I received the dreaded call from campus police: “Can someone from Preservation come in to the library?  The sprinkler went off on the fourth floor.”  And a panicked “How long will it take you to get here?”  No more information than sprinkler and fourth floor.  General collection stacks, the Conservation Lab, and Special Collections and Archives are all up on the fourth floor.

When I arrived, there was water pouring off of the side of the building and someone waiting for me at the back door.  I was told it was over Special Collections and I started to panic.  The library was closed for the week and many staff were out of town for the holiday including our conservator.  In Special Collections and our attached classroom, there was standing water (at one point up to 6 inches) and Facilities Planning and Management was already moving playback equipment out of the AV room.  Kara, the dress dummy wearing a 4H dress, was also rescued and moved to the lab.


It was raining over two of the offices and a little in the processing room.  Thankfully, the penthouse, where the sprinkler head burst, is not located over Special Collections stacks or even connected through vents or pipes.  It turns out that a damper collected snow on the slats and froze open causing the temperature to drop in the penthouse.  This would have happened even if the library had been open.  A mechanic was in the building and heard the alarm and campus police received the alert and could determine exactly which sprinkler activated so response was immediate.

Computer equipment and some AV equipment were sent to IT for drying and recovery.  Luckily, all equipment had been completely shutdown all the way to the power strip level and nothing fried which would not have been the case if we had been open and working that day.

Re-housed archives materials

Collection materials and personal items from the offices and processing room were brought to the Conservation Lab.  Books and saturated materials were placed in the freezer since they would require more time and attention.  Thank goodness for archival processing standards and the fact that our Archives staff follow them.  Collection materials were mostly protected by Paige and document boxes that did their job beautifully and kept their contents dry.  Materials were transferred to new folders and boxes; tabs were torn off of old folders and placed in the new folder so that the information could be easily transferred.  Boxes were left open to make sure contents dried.  Damp materials were spread out on blotter and left to air dry.  The air was so dry in the lab, damp materials dried in minutes.

Salvaged office contents

Over the next few days, documents that had been frozen were thawed and air dried quickly.  The next week, books were thawed and inter-leaved (love having our Fisher Scientific freezer in the lab instead of having to run out to the storage building).  By that time the humidity level in the lab was significantly higher and the books were not drying as quickly.  One book in particular was still wet throughout so I tried inter-leaving the new Tech Wipes we purchased and placed it in the press; it was dry and relatively flat the next day!  There was one casualty, a Giada cookbook that could not be inter-leaved because of the clay coating.  It actually air dried on its own and the pages popped apart, but then it started flaking every time the pages were flexed.

Two lessons from this:  1) Never discount the importance of quality housing, and 2) Tech Wipes worked and are worth testing further.


  1. Great description! And what a great response from your team–kudos to all. (And who knew the dress dummy had a name? Not me!) March on, and thanks as always for an interesting update.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s