The wrenching process of dealing with loss of life and property as a result of the recent accumulation of disasters in Japan has barely begun but, at some point, the loss of libraries and their literary and cultural collections will enter the public's consciousness, too. This is why a recent article in the Boston Phoenix seems so timely. Called "When Your Library's Underwater, Who You Gonna Call?" by Eugenia Williamson, it describes the preparedness, and lack thereof, of libraries in general and in Massachusetts, in particular. "In 1996, a public library in Western Massachusetts burned to the ground" she writes. In 1998, a 42-inch water main broke in Copley Square, causing $18 million of damage to the Boston Public Library, wiping out all of their government documents and science reference books."
But now "Massachusetts cultural institutions lead the nation in emergency response" because of these few hard lessons, the article says.
In January of 2011, the Atheneum Library in Boston experienced a water emergency when " a sprinkler pipe broke in the ceiling of the first floor of the Boston Athenaeum" and "water rained from the ceiling in a great gush, splashing early American portraits, antique wooden furniture, oriental rugs — and patrons, who were ordered out of the building and onto the freezing street. Within an hour, a good part of the first floor was covered in four inches of standing water. The water cascaded down the stairwell and the elevator shaft, seeping into the basement and the sub-basement, which house 50,000 books in a collection dating back to the early 19th century."
But "mere hours after the pipe burst, the water was gone, the books were stable, and the building was dry. Thanks to planning, everyone was out of there by midnight."