The Abbey Newsletter

Volume 13, Number 4
Jul 1989


Disaster Management for Libraries: Planning and Process, by Claire England and Karen Evans. Canadian Library Association (200 Elgin St., Suite 602, Ottawa, Ont. K2P 1LS). 207 pp. ISBN 0-88802-197-6. $20 to members, $25 nonmembers.

Reviewed by Sally Buchanan
Assistant Director for Preservation Services, University of Pittsburgh

The Canadian Library Association has published a new book, Disaster Management for Libraries: Planning and Process. The authors, Claire England and Karen Evans, have chosen to divide it into three sections: "Anticipating Disaster," "Reacting to Disaster," and "Preserving Collections." Published management perspectives on preservation issues are not numerous, so this approach is welcome. It is not clear at times, however, whether this is advice and commentary about management issues, or is strictly sound but general advice on disaster planning and recovery.

In the first section the authors define disasters, presenting the argument that acute disasters are those that are calamitous, sudden events, while quiet disasters are those of deteriorating collections. They state that in either case management response should be built around four standpoints, "anticipation, appraisal, action, and awareness." Gordon Wright contributes an excellent chapter, "A Management Perspective on Disaster Planning," in which he discusses at some length factors in the management of (acute) disaster--social behavior, authority, communications, personnel issues and coordination. He strongly encourages solid disaster planning supervised by a senior manager. There is also an informative chapter on insurance and risk management considerations. One aspect of this section I found disturbing was the firm statement made several times and in different contexts, of the "rule" that recovering books from a disaster is more expensive than replacing them. The authors offer no evidence to substantiate this "rule," however. Ignoring the fact that in a great percentage of cases material is not replaceable, it has been this reviewer s experience that recovery has always been less expensive than replacement, especially if total costs for both are compared.

The second section advises about reacting to fire, water, and chemical contamination. This information is fairly general, and relies heavily on the excellent An Ounce of Prevention and Peter Waters's 1979 Procedures for Salvage of Water-Damaged Library Materials. The authors are too liberal with their advice to use thymol, for my comfort, because the inexperienced do not appreciate its dangers, and may not take the extreme care required. England and Evans warn that thymol is dangerous, but proceed to provide details on its use, including the production of interleaving sheets. I have some additional concerns in this section that might be pointed out:

  1. In suggesting air-drying, the authors mention the lower initial costs, but fail to mention that moderately wet books, air-dried, will be considerably more distorted and swollen than books that have been properly vacuum-dried, requiring more repair, shelf space, and/or greater rebinding costs.
  2. On page 87 they state that "Obviously, rare or unique books and special collections may justify the expensive and time-consuming repair that is likely to follow freezing or vacuum procedures." In fact, freezing and vacuum freeze-drying procedures do not damage books, and in most cases prevent further damage to structure and text-blocks. On the other hand, vacuum freeze-drying must be used with extreme caution for rare materials because so few have been tested with this method. Conservators are better trained to handle rare materials.
  3. There seems to be some confusion about the difference between vacuum thermal-drying and vacuum freeze-drying because Document Reprocessors is mentioned incorrectly as providing "vacuum (thermal) drying" when they actually provide vacuum freeze-drying.
  4. There are several unsubstantiated facts presented in the water chapter that this reviewer has not found to be the case, e.g., the statement that there is acid migration during vacuum drying if high acid materials are "bundled together" with low acid ones, or that packing books tightly before freezing prevents cockling.
  5. Finally, in this section, there might be more information to inform managers about the cost and time involved in rehabilitating materials after recovery. This can frequently be as much as one half to two thirds the total recovery time, and includes such activities as cleaning, sorting, rebinding, repairing, replacing security tags, shelf labels, pockets and pamphlet bindings.

The final section discusses basic preservation issues with general commentary upon brittle books, reformatting, repair, environment for a variety of formats, and literature in the field. Management issues are kept to a minimum.

Appendices include sample forms, addresses, and an annotated bibliography.

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