Collections damaged in a January steam pipe burst that flooded Sterling Memorial Library appear to have been restored successfully, library staff said Friday.
Following a two-month freeze-drying process at an off-campus facility, preservationists began to examine the collections last week, and said it is likely that none of them suffered serious permanent damage. In particular, the staff examined a valuable collection of Cambodian newspapers Friday afternoon and confirmed that all of the information in the papers remains intact.
Head Preservationist Roberta Pilette said that in most cases students will not even notice that the books, which number more than 3,000, suffered water damage. The status of the Cambodian newspapers was particularly relieving, she said.
“I was a little concerned, because when newspaper gets wet it’s extremely fragile,” Pilette said. “We’re not going to have any loss of information, which is the key thing.”
Rich Richie, curator of the library’s Southeast Asian collection, said he is planning to digitize the Cambodian newspapers as quickly as possible. Though University librarians initially said the newspapers are survivors of the Khmer Rouge’s censorship campaign, Richie said the collection actually dates to the period in 1992 and 1993 after the Khmer Rouge signed a peace agreement brokered by the United Nations. The collection, which consists of 58 publication titles, appears to be the largest of its kind, Richie said. The materials include some of the last known copies in existence — especially in the United States — which is of interest to scholars, he said.
“It was a time period when journalism was re-emerging in Cambodia after a long period of government repression of free speech,” Richie said.
Though some scholars in Cambodia were initially alarmed by inaccurate reports that Yale had damaged Khmer Rouge-era media not known to exist, Richie said, they are now expressing interest in helping the University to build on the collection.
During the freeze-drying process, the materials — some of which were completely soaked — are treated with machines that freeze the water and then convert it to vapor. Some of the newspapers and book pages were slightly warped but readable, and roughly 3 percent were set aside for re-binding. Though the library staff has examined less than a quarter of all the collections, the results so far indicate that none of materials suffered irreversible damage.
Since the steam leak, which flooded the SML basement and damaged Machine City, library and facilities staff have taken steps to prevent similar problems from occurring in the future. Because most of the collections were dampened when the heat activated fire sprinklers, the Fire Marshal’s office recalibrated the sprinklers to go off at higher temperatures. The sprinkler heads will still respond to fire but are now largely impervious to steam, Library Building Operations Manager John Vincenti said.
“The likelihood of those going off again in a steam leak is very small, unless the steam is blowing directly on them,” he said. “There’s already enough water in the area.”
Preservationists are also streamlining emergency protocols and training library staff to prepare them for future crises, Preservation Field Services Librarian Tara Kennedy said. In January, librarians credited the materials’ survival to a rushed rescue operation in the flooded areas.
“We’re making cheat sheets, quick and dirty things so people know who to call and what to do,” Kennedy said.
The library as a whole is also preparing for a 16-month renovation of Cross Campus Library beginning this summer. The formidable task of moving the Cross-Campus volumes to SML is proceeding on schedule, University Librarian Alice Prochaska said. The library has also begun removing card cabinets from the knave and selling them, though the cards themselves will be permanently relocated to the basement or an off-campus storage facility.
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