Safety first — points to check before entering your school library
Before entering the school library after a disaster, your safety may well depend on taking some precautions. First, check with your school principal that the building is physically safe to enter. Personal safety is paramount.
Services, utilities and building structure
Find out if:
- the electricity and gas has been turned back on
- underfloor or wall wiring has been broken or suffered water damage
- there is any contamination from sewage
- there’s any risk of asbestos being exposed (e.g. if your building is an older Nelson Plan structure).
Useful items to bring with you
Depending on what type of disaster you've suffered, take:
- gumboots — especially if the library has been flooded
- rubber latex or nitrile gloves, which are made a synthetic latex rubber resistant to oils and acids
- a mask of the grade for protection from mould spores or the fine particles in smoke
- crates and bin liners for items destined for disposal
- plastic bags of different sizes for items you may need to freeze and marker pens to label them
- hand sanitiser.
Hazards you might encounter on entering your library
Depending on what type of disaster you've suffered, you may find:
- sharp objects on the floor, such as broken glass, china or shards of crockery
- items of all kinds that have fallen — from shelving and books to artworks, and items such as fish tanks and indoor plants
- computers and other ICT equipment broken or thrown about.
There may also be contamination coming from a variety of sources, which, if the weather is warm or sunny, provides the perfect breeding ground for bacteria and mould. Contamination could come from:
- broken sewage pipes
- soot residues from a range of incinerated materials
- water mixed with floor-level glue, dirt, silt or potting mix.
If you have broken windows or damaged spouting, when it next rains you may have water coming in down the inside of walls. This could put your wall-shelving at risk, even if it hasn’t been immediately affected by the earthquake, flood or fire.
Talk to your principal about insurance claims and find out when a representative from the insurance company will be coming to the school. Clarify exactly what information you'll have to provide to support an insurance claim for lost or damaged library materials.
Items contaminated by sewage
If you need to replace items contaminated by sewage, you'll need to provide details for the insurance company.
- Take photos of damaged items, or if it's safe to do so, remove the title pages and dispose of the rest of the contaminated books.
- Download records for the damaged items from your Integrated Library System (ILS) — including purchase date, amount paid, replacement cost, and the barcode if you have more than one copy.
Books out on loan
When a disaster strikes, your school library may have hundreds of books currently out on loan. Depending on the type of disaster, some items will be lost in students’ or staff members’ homes. You'll need to let the insurance company know that it might take some time to confirm the list of items that you need to lodge a claim for.
As long as you have access to the data in your ILS, you'll be able to confirm which items are not in the library.
Recognising and handling different types of damage
The methods you use to fix damaged items in your collection depends on what has caused the damage.
Smoke and soot damage
You can recognise different types of damage from smoke and soot by the residue they leave.
- Smoke leaves an acidic film and odour that causes discolouration, corrosion and damage.
- Soot residues from plastics and synthetic textiles are typically a black residue that smudges easily.
- Burnt protein matter leaves a yellow-brown greasy residue.
- Residues from burnt wood and paper are typically grey and powdery.
Many materials, including furnishings, construction materials and plastics produce toxic off-gases and odours.
Ozone, which is often used by commercial vendors to get rid of the smell of smoke, can damage organic materials and will accelerate the rate of deterioration of your collections. Ozone treatments should not be used on valuable or unique items.
Salvage following fire
Fire and water damage are often linked. In many cases, air-drying is used to rescue damaged items. Make sure you use:
- only cool circulating air — this reduces the risk of mould
- vacuum cleaners with High-Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filters.
If you need to remove dirt or soot, use dry-cleaning or chemical sponges, but keep books tightly closed to prevent soot entering the text block.
S-Factor: safety, smoke, smell, soot, salvage and supplies (pdf, 176KB) — more detailed information, including suppliers of specialist equipment, and sources of salvage and response training
Contamination from sewage presents a serious health hazard. Even if they've been air-dried, any items that have absorbed contaminated water are a health risk and should be disposed of.
Before disposing of them, record key information for an insurance claim.
Many moulds are allergenic and produce chemicals that can irritate the throat and lungs, or lead to illness. If you're handling materials that show evidence of mould, always:
- wear a dust mask that is rated for use with mould, and
- latex gloves.
Conserving various item types
Use this general advice to get you started with dealing with damage to items in your collection. For valuable items or further advice, you may need to consult a conservator or relevant heritage professional.
Getting conservation help
As a first step, you could contact the National Library’s National Preservation Office.
The National Preservation Office Te Tari Tohu Taonga (NPO) helps institutions and community groups by offering advice on how to deal with damaged items and with planning for a disaster.
Phone: 04 474 3066
Freephone: 0800 474 300
The New Zealand Insurance Council advises that you should not be too hasty to throw out water-damaged items. Just because something looks a sodden mess, it does not mean it cannot be recovered.
Moving wet books
Find the best location for laying out wet books. Get advice from your principal, or whoever has taken charge of disaster recovery in your school. For example, if there’s any structural damage to the library roof, or if your carpet needs lifting for drying out, you may have to move your wet books to the school hall or the gym.
You may need a trolley or some extra help to move the crates of wet books to another location. Don't pack them tightly — conservation advice is to just pack them in a single layer with the spine down.
Drying out wet books
Dry your wet books slowly away from direct sunlight — moving cool air is the key to getting a good result. Place them on tables and dry them using a continuous cool air-flow, for example from portable electric fans. Materials will dry gradually in 2 to 7 days.
You should store wet books on end with their pages 'fanned open' to ensure the air current reaches all the wet pages. You may need to ‘fan’ the pages during the drying process to ensure the air reaches all pages.
Dehumidifiers can help by removing moisture from the surrounding air — they shouldn't be your only method of drying out the books. Only use dehumidifiers with an automatic shut-down and ensure they are emptied regularly.
Do not use electric space heaters or place wet books in direct sunlight — this will cause further damage.
Freezing books and valuable paper items
Books and other paper items should be frozen if you cannot take immediate action — mould growth starts to appear on water soaked paper-based materials within 48 to 72 hours of suffering water damage.
When you freeze wet materials do not attempt to:
- separate wet sheets, for example for books, maps or newspapers
- squeeze out the water
- turn the pages — wet paper can tear very easily.
To prepare items for freezing:
- place them in plastic bags or wrap them in plastic film
- label them clearly with a marker pen
- bundle them together to a manageable size, ideally no thicker than 50mm
- support over-sized items, for example, 'big books', maps, or posters, with an auxiliary support such as stiff cardboard sheets — they'll be heavy and so damage easily.
The advice from conservators is to air-dry photographs immediately if possible.
- Air-dry them on clean blotting paper or absorbent paper with the picture side uppermost.
- Don't touch wet photographs — if they're dirty, you can rinse gently in clean, cold water.
- Don't let photographs dry in contact with anything else — they'll stick together permanently.
If you can’t air-dry them immediately, you can freeze wet photographs. Place them in sealed plastic bags, then freeze. They can stay frozen indefinitely.
Collection salvage guidelines (pdf, 128KB) — includes information on how to salvage different types of images
Handle wet maps with extreme care and can be very heavy. Don't attempt to:
- separate wet sheets
- carry piles of oversize wet material without support underneath
- sponge the surface or wipe off dirt.
It's best to freeze or air-dry them within 48 hours. If you have a large enough freezer space, you can drain excess water from map drawers and freeze the entire drawer and contents.
Other media, including CDs, DVDs, video and audiotapes
For information on what to do and what not to do, read the guidelines prepared by the National Preservation Office at the National Library.
Collection salvage guidelines (pdf, 128KB)
Find out more
Risk Management Scheme — contents and liability insurance — an insurance scheme provided by the Ministry of Education for Boards of Trustees of state and state-integrated schools. The link gives information about how to make a claim.
Canterbury disaster salvage team — professionals from a variety of different fields in the cultural heritage sector including art galleries, museums, libraries, universities and archives.
Baltimore Academic Libraries Consortium disaster preparedness plan: books — offers different methods for drying water-damaged books.