“Poverty is no Excuse: Disaster Preparedness for the Small Library”

Historic Libraries Forum Annual Conference
20 November 2008

This conference was extremely interesting and informative, and attended by about 50 people. The morning sessions consisted of two talks, one by Alison Walker, Head of the National Preservation Office, on Creating a Disaster Management Plan and the second by Professor Graham Mathews on Safeguarding Heritage at Risk.

1) Creating a Disaster Management Plan 

Many sources are available, including the National Preservation Office, Emergency Planning College, UK Resislience and teh M25 Disaster Managament Group websites. A template from one of these sources can be adapted to meet individual needs.  

http://www.bl.uk/npo/ NPO (part of the British Library) provides an independent focus for the preservation of and continuing accessibility to cultural heritage materials held in libraries, archives and museums in the United Kingdom and Ireland.

http://www.epcollege.gov.uk/ Government’s centre for running short seminars, workshops and courses on an inter–agency basis in the field of crisis management and emergency planning.

http://www.ukresilience.gov.uk/ Provided by the Cabinet Office. Provides a resource for civil protection practitioners, supporting the work that goes on across the UK to improve emergency preparedness.

http://www.m25lib.ac.uk/ M25 Consortium of Academic Libraries, which has a disaster control plan template in its members’ area.

http://www.ifla.org/blueshield.htm Another useful source is Blue Shield (the cultural equivalent of the Red Cross) that deals with cultural heritage preservation.

The main components of a plan are manpower, supplies and procedures. Once a plan is written it needs to be constantly updated and evaluated.

2. Safeguarding Heritage at Risk

Small Libraries tend to share common problems:

  • Low staffing levels
  • Lack of expertise in DP
  • Lack of funding
  • Lack of time
  • Senior Management do not consider that DP is a priority
  • Lack of space

Why bother about Disaster Planning?

  • There is an unprecedented scale of threat from Terrorism, Natural Disasters and Vandalism
  • We have a duty of care
  • Valuable / irreplaceable items
  • Service continuity – impact on our users

Examples of disasters that have had a major impact on cultural sites include the Windsor Castle fire, Cutty Sark fire, the floods of 2007 and 9/11.  And there is the new threat of climate change.

The afternoon sessions consisted of three case studies:

a.  Norwich Library fire of 1994

b.  The development of Rapid Response, a regional heritage disaster network for Yorkshire’s libraries and museums, following the disastrous floods of 2007

c.  The Belfor Rapid Response Scheme – used by the Royal Academy of Music Library

The Norwich Library fire took 2 days to put out and destroyed most of the books and other items held in the building.  It was started by an electrical fault and the building was completely gutted. In this particular case the items in the basement were the ‘safest’.

The Yorkshire Rapid Response network was set up with Heritage Lottery funds (£56K) following the floods of 2007.  The floods had affected 25 heritage organisations.  Training will be provided on all aspects of disaster response, including practical and management issues.

The Belfor Rapid Response Scheme http://www.uk.belfor.com/index.php?id=92

The flood at the Royal Academy of Music was due to a combination of factors: flat roof, high winds, heavy rain and seeds from nearby plane trees accumulating in the gutters.  The RAM pays £395 each year to Belfor Rapid Response and therefore was able to call on their expertise to repair the damaged books.

Miscellaneous Facts

The staff at Norwich Library borrowed shopping trolleys from a nearby Marks & Spencers – these were used to transport ‘rescued’ material to awaiting vans.  They used a nearby RAF aircraft hangar as a temporary store for damaged material.

Don’t just keep your Disaster Plan on the computer!  It may be damaged by fire or flood.  Have colour coded laminated sheets on display throughout the building.

Keep a torch in your Disaster Planning boxes – the electricity may fail.

Mary Duffy [Librarian Army & Navy Club 2008]

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