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Coping with Theft, Vandalism, Deterioration, and Bad Press

11. The Silver LiningRecovering from the Shambles of a Disaster
Camila A. Alire

No one immediately involved in a major crisis or disaster even begins to think about whether or not the crisis might have some silver lining. That is the last thing on anyone's mind.

This was definitely the case at Morgan Library at Colorado State University in July 1997, when half its collections were damaged by flood waters. Staff members found themselves overwhelmed in emergency disaster recovery in designing innovative systems to recover damaged materials, and in creating emergency programs to serve library users during the disaster recovery period. Be assured that there was no silver lining at the outset.

From this experience, however, the Morgan Library was able to take a major disaster and turn the experience into something positive. Staff members were able to convert the cards dealt them into positive strategies and results and share their experience with other institutions as a model response to a major disaster.

The crisis began on the evening of July 27, 1997, when Fort Collins, Colorado, suffered flash flooding and, in a period of four hours, received 6.5 inches of rain. The Morgan Library was hit hard:

At about 10:30 [P.M.], the pressure of tons of water caused a portion of the west wall of the lower level [of Morgan Library] to give way, allowing the water to cascade in. Unlike a normal flood, where water slowly rises, a flash flood raged through the lower level. Later, estimates by the city indicated that the water entered the building at 5,000 cubic feet per minute—flood stage on the local Cache La Poudre River is measured at 3,000 cubic feet per minute. [1]

The water level within the Library's lower level rose 8.5 feet, rising above the ceiling tiles by six inches. Some 658 cubic feet of water were in the library equaling 4.9 million gallons, or 41 million pounds. All the bound journals housed in the library were damaged and had to be removed from the building, as were all the monographs located on the lower level. Afterward, many subject disciplines had no materials available for researchers.

Even though the disaster struck three weeks before the fall semester, the university president mandated that all buildings damaged must be operational by the first day of classes. Morgan Library was the hardest hit building on campus.

Although there have been larger-scale library disasters than that at Morgan Library no one had ever attempted to recover and restore close to 500,000 water-damaged volumes and return them to the collection. Ours was a pioneering effort, and because of that, there were no libraries we could consult about engaging in this monumental project.

In the crisis, public relations efforts were focused on three levels: information to staff affected; information to the parent organization; and information to the external community. Morgan Library staff worked hard to ensure that there was no negative press about the library's disaster that could affect enrollment of students for the academic year. Communication of information to all interested parties was forthcoming and provided the key to developing strong relationships with campus administrators, campus community, library users, and the public press.

The university faculty should be a key focus for media relations for any research library that suffers extensive damage to its collection. The communication relationship the library develops with its teaching and research faculty is critical. A silver lining here was the existence of the University Faculty Council's Committee on Libraries and the role it developed in co-operation with library administrators to keep faculty and students informed about disaster recovery efforts and progress.

"All potential spokespersons . . . should be media trained in advance." [2] We had our silver lining in this case in place before the disaster occurred. That is, the library dean had received basic media training through the American Library Association's advocacy training program. This training was critical in establishing the credibility of a new library dean with her staff, the university administration, university faculty, the press, and the external community. The university's office of media relations relied on the library dean to speak for the university concerning the recovery at Morgan Library.

Can our discovery of this silver lining, based on the Morgan Library experience, help other libraries in the future? Yes. All organizations dealing with the stewardship of cultural resources that could experience possible crises related to those resources should have key personnel who are media-trained. In addition, a basic media relations plan should be developed to handle potential disasters or crises. [3]

Chaos existed during the immediate emergency disaster recovery period, which lasted for the three weeks before the fall semester began. Morgan Library staff members immediately began working on restoring public services. That was the first priority, and there was no doubt that library services tied to the opening of the facility would be restored. The major issue for public service, however, was how to meet the research and curricular needs of the students and faculty when one-half of the Library's collections were gone.

Colorado State University is a Research I institution with Association of Research Libraries (ARL) membership, and the disaster brought a huge demand for interlibrary loans (ILL). Even though Morgan Library was lucky to have an innovative, progressive, and almost totally automated interlibrary loan department, it had to change its procedures during the emergency and from this emerged a facet of the silver lining.

First, the library completely overhauled ILL processing routines to maximize efficiency by automating all phases of the process that allowed long-term applications. Not only were new automation and programming efforts developed specifically for disaster recovery ILL services, but the changes were also intentionally designed to introduce permanent improvement in ILL service. [4]

Second, the library's ILL disaster recovery services involved the new FastFlood document delivery service. This totally automated service delivered journal articles in two days or less 95 percent of the time to Colorado State University (CSU) users. Its efficiency has raised the expectations of our users for desktop article delivery. Both CSU students and faculty members have displayed such enthusiastic appreciation for this streamlined service that the FastFlood model is being integrated into our ILL service over the long term. The university has provided funding for Morgan Library to work with six other ARL libraries to develop our system into a national delivery model entitled Project RAPID.

Third, Morgan Library's public service culture became suffused with a new emphasis on the convenience of the user. Since the disaster, the public service staff has become increasingly enthusiastic about implementing new services. Staff members demonstrate far greater willingness to take risks. They avoid overburdening new programs with rules and regulations. Staff members deliberately devise more user-friendly policies and procedures for users.

Because most of the disaster recovery projects have affected the technical services division of Morgan Library and because that is where the library's disaster planning and recovery leaders are employed, much of the stress has been experienced in this area. Even in technical services, however, a silver lining has revealed itself.

The system design of various phases of massive recovery and restoration of water-damaged materials could serve as a model. Design techniques created for the recovery contractor and his staff for implementation were based on preservation principles.

Technical services staff members were ingenious in developing concepts that helped cover recovery costs. They used a "value loss" concept, applying it to each damaged volume, which was critical in negotiations with the insurance carrier.

Additionally the staff introduced the "fat factor" concept. The fat factor is the actual swelling factor that wet books experience after they are dry. A sampling of damaged books compared with undamaged books of the exact title demonstrated a 16 percent average fat factor, which was then converted into expanded space requirements. We used a formula to support our additional needs, and university negotiators were successful in convincing the insurance carrier of the need to cover costs for additional space at the library's off-site depository.

Another aspect of the silver lining in technical services relates to collaboration with commercial library vendors. The technical services staff's use of automation to output files for comparisons to these vendors has given the library an opportunity to look differently at vendor relationships in the future. Using this information, the staff was able to assess and approach various vendors for potentially responding with a proposal for involvement in the last phase of recovery.

In any disaster, the type of insurance coverage is critical, and valuing a library's collection is much more difficult than assessing value for a physical facility. Morgan Library's insurance coverage for its collection was better than most libraries. The university's risk management and inventory values covered a set value per volume as well as including a "back-to-original-condition" clause. This clause alone prompted library officials to urge university negotiators to negotiate for a value loss figure of $6 million.

The library staff's involvement was critical in the development of cost studies with a statistics consultant. Staff collaboration included preparing cost models for university negotiators to negotiate with the insurance carrier. The silver lining in this case was the reexamination of ways in which the library's physical collection should be valued for the future. Consequently, the library developed better estimates of the collections costs than ever before. [5]

A related benefit that may profit other libraries was derived from these studies about determining the value of a library's collection. It is critical to recognize the importance of insuring a library collection at its proper value and developing an insurance policy that covers the true costs of collection loss.

In the first few weeks of disaster recovery library disaster consultants from all over the country adamantly insisted that the total loss percentage of the collection damaged would be around 10 to 20 percent. Morgan Library administrators disagreed, predicting anywhere from 30 to 40 percent total losses. The university administration and insurance representatives accepted the consultants' figures. Morgan Library's total loss is now teetering around 35 percent to date. When one thinks about a total loss of materials edging on 40 percent, it would seem difficult to find any semblance of a silver lining.

With total loss at such a large percentage, we needed to look at reshaping Morgan Library's research collection, heading toward new directions for collection building. Therein lies our silver lining. Morgan Library selectors are focusing on two areas for reshaping the collection for the future. One focus is to rethink the material type—choosing, perhaps, more electronic alternatives, which may tip the balance between electronic resources and print material. The other focus is to look at the future of CSU's curricular and research needs in reshaping the overall collection.

In terms of electronic resources, Morgan Library received special, subsidized access to a variety of electronic databases and full-text resources. In this way Morgan Library staff members and users had an opportunity to experiment with a wide array of electronic options and, in the process, expanded their willingness to give serious consideration to electronic alternatives. And yet, this expanded knowledge pointed also to the value of traditional materials. "Conversely the most radical electronic champions, among both staff and users, have had their expectations tempered by a new perceived reality—even when the opportunity presented itself, it was seen that electronic resources could not come close to substituting for a research collection built over decades of planned acquisitions." [6]

The biggest factor in the silver lining found in restoring Morgan Library's collection involved the response to the library's aggressive gift-solicitation project. This project resulted in replacing 100,000 exact-title, undamaged volumes for damaged serials and monographs by substitute volumes. The country—libraries, professors, professional societies, commercial publishers, and so forth—responded overwhelmingly to the library's request for donation of exact-title gift materials. Not only did donors send exact titles, but they also donated other titles as well. Such a donor response to the Library's disaster had an additional silver lining. It was a much-needed morale booster for library administrators, faculty, and staff.

One can only imagine the despair experienced by an entire library staff when the extent of such library damage is shared with them. There are no words to capture the overwhelming feelings and fears everyone experiences. However, here too there was a silver lining.

First, not only did the library's disaster recovery team have a disaster plan and recovery document, but it also had gone through disaster recovery practice drills. Even more important, several members of the team had served as presenters at disaster-planning workshops earlier in the year. Morgan Library staff was as well prepared for a disaster as any group could be.

Library staff members worked increasingly in teams to solve problems and sharpened their negotiation and planning skills. Cross-training was introduced immediately after the disaster and is now standard practice in the organization. Overall, the silver lining for personnel is summarized by the comment that "Little stuff doesn't faze us! Throughout the Library staff at all levels were called on to do things—different thinking, reports, analyses, projects—that they normally wouldn't do. Professional and leadership skills of many staff were challenged and improved. Staff have grown in confidence about their abilities." [7]

Second, the disaster changed the culture of the organization of the library. Many staff members were involved in developing a more innovative approach to problem solving. [8] Staff members devised and implemented systems for projects that had never been considered before in major library disaster recovery. Most important, staff members became more adaptable and flexible, more open to change.

Two related special projects evolved from the disaster. The first project is called GAP—the gift augmentation project. As mentioned previously the donor response to the Library's gift solicitation project netted many more new-title volumes. Because of that, the university administration became amenable to funding GAP, which involves first selecting titles that will enhance the overall collection and then processing them into the library's collection.

The second project is one that we hope will help other libraries. The monograph entitled Library Disaster Planning and Recovery Handbook was developed and written by members of the library's disaster recovery team in 1998 so that they could share their experiences with others. The book has already had an effect on other disaster recovery efforts. North Dakota State University's library suffered flood damage in the summer of 2000, and its library administrators used the handbook to assist them in their recovery efforts.

And so, from that day in July 1997 when its collections were so badly damaged, Morgan Library took a major disaster and found the silver lining that resulted from disaster recovery. In rebuilding its collections to developing new systems, in changing the institutional culture to bring greater collaboration and flexibility, in developing a handbook so that others could benefit from the library's experience—Morgan Library found the silver lining that grew out of what at first seemed a disaster of overwhelming proportions.

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   September 15, 2008
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