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Subject: Fire in Linkoping Library

Fire in Linkoping Library

From: Lars Bjordal <lars.bjordal>
Date: Thursday, October 3, 1996
A week ago we read a message dated 21 Sept. 1996 (Conservation
DistList Instance: 10:30) from Lars Aronsson in Linkoping, Sweden,
that the City Library had burnt to the ground. A terrible message
and a terrible accident, which shocked us all in Sweden, especially
the citizens of Linkoping. With the fire went not only the Library
but also the City Archives, and some other activities which were
located in the building. (The reaction to the catastrophe showed
however that people in general attach great importance to public
Libraries and Archives, which warms the heart in this sad moment.)

I suppose that you who read the message wonder how the situation is
now and how big the damage was? To find out and to help the library
and the archive staff in the rescue work, three experts from Uppsala
University Library went down to Linkoping; two conservators (Mr. Per
Cullhed, a book conservator, and myself, a paper conservator) and
the co-ordinator of the international ICA-working group on Disaster
planning, Mr.Ingmar Frojd. My impression from the visit could be
described as follows:

*   The fire started in one or two of the office rooms that were
    situated on the first floor in the main building.  The rapid
    spreading of the fire indicates that it was set  by someone
    using gasoline or something like that, and nothing points out
    that it was the result of a technical problem. Ca. 30 minutes
    after the fire alarm was activated, the main building collapsed
    in an explosion from the fire gases. The Fire Brigade then
    concentrated their resources on saving the administration
    building next door, which they managed to do. Although there
    were over 400 people in the building at the time the fire
    started there were no injuries. The library staff tried to stop
    the fire, but after a few minutes they gave up and concentrated
    on getting all the people out of the building. They did a
    brilliant work.

*   All the books (ca. 200.000 vol.), the catalog, a special
    collection on literature from the County, archival material, old
    paintings and much more, were destroyed in the main building.

*   The older collections of books (ca. 250.000 vol.) archival
    documents etc. were saved! They were stored in the cellar of the
    main building. Although the cellar roof was strong enough to
    protect against the fire, there were huge cracks in some parts
    of it, as a result of the high pressure from the collapsed
    building above in combination with the heat.

*   To save the collections in the cellar from being drowned the
    fire brigade used as little water as possible, a tactic which
    proved to be successful. When the cellar was opened, ca. 40
    hours from the fire started, it was clear that the water damage
    was minimal. But there were problems with the heat radiating
    from the remains of the fire above.  Quit soon it was obvious
    that the temperature was increasing  and the relative humidity
    dropping.  About six hours from the opening  the temperature
    had reached nearly 85 deg C and the RH dropped to only 10%. To
    meet this problem a hole was opened up in one of the cellar
    walls and fresh air was blown through the cellar.

*   Before the evacuation of the collections the roof had to be
    reinforced to secure it from collapsing. In waiting for the
    "green light" the  evacuation was planned in detail.

*   The evacuation was executed by a local company, specialised in
    clearing up after fires. The cellar collections were packed in
    corrugated cardboard boxes according to instructions from the
    Library and the Archives. It all seemed to work out very well.
    The transportation boxes were marked up with ID-number and piled
    on loading pallets, to be transported to an acceptable
    depository, located near the city.

*   Because of the situation it was only possible to make spot tests
    to find out if there was  damage to the saved collections from
    the extreme heat and dryness. As you could expect there was
    shrinking and cracking damage on some books covered with leather
    or parchment, as a result of the heat and dryness. The covers
    were curling heavily, or the joints had broken.  A little bit
    surprisingly the old hand-written parchment letters seemed to be
    in good shape, even the wax seals! A result of the way they were
    stored, in boxes? Old globes, maps, photos also looked
    unaffected! But there was a collection of newspapers which felt
    like paper samples after a accelerated ageing test; stiff and
    inflexible. The stacks of newspapers were still warm and there
    was a strong smell of groundwood paper among those shelves.

*   A small amount of the books in the cellar were damaged from
    water. To avoid mould growth they were  packed, individually
    surrounded with plastic, in boxes and sent to a huge freezer,
    belonging to a local ice-cream company(!), while waiting for

*   The rescue operation seemed to us well-planned and the rescue
    committee had so far made great work. (My colleague Per Cullhed
    was already on the first day after the fire in contact with the
    coordinator for the rescue work, to give him "first aid"

Well dear readers, this was a short (!) overview. Of course there
will be a more exhaustive report in the future. To make a conclusion
on this message you could say that the Library and the Archives were
lucky to have rescued the older collections. According to the
extreme situation in the cellar there was surprisingly little
visible damage to the materials. But there will probably be some of
that in the future. Or to quote my colleague Mr. Frojd, when we were
feeling the "well baked" volumes of old newspapers in our hands,
"there went another 100 years"!

At the Mac! (With kindly editing help from Mark Andersson, from
Seattle - USA, studying here on a Fulbright grant, and Per Cullhed.)

Lars Bjordal
Paper conservator
Uppsala University Library

                  Conservation DistList Instance 10:34
                 Distributed: Thursday, October 3, 1996
                       Message Id: cdl-10-34-002
Received on Thursday, 3 October, 1996

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