Never a good sign

For those who need a reminder of the fragility of our knowledge of the past, I present the following from the Bodleian, Oxford:

Update on sprinkler incident at Book Storage Facility [by this point, your heart should already have leapt into your throat]

On Saturday 12 January at the Bodleian’s Book Storage Facility (BSF), a sprinkler was activated causing water damage to a number of books. This incident is highly unusual and is the first time this has occurred since the BSF opened in September 2010. Bodleian Libraries staff responded to the matter immediately and are working with the University’s Estates Services to investigate the problem. At the moment it is not yet known what caused the sprinkler to go off, but there is no evidence of a fire.
In total 5,724 books from a wide variety of collection areas were affected. The wet materials have been dispatched for freezing and drying, the recommended treatment for such incidents. We anticipate that all books will return to their collections but are not able to make a final assessment until the restoration process has been completed. SOLO has been updated to note those items that are temporarily unavailable. Library staff and the Just in Time Team are on alert to locate an alternative copy if possible from other sources should a reader have an urgent need to consult a title which is temporarily inaccessible during conservation treatment.
The BSF reopened on Monday 14 January and had returned to normal operations by the afternoon of Tuesday 15 January. We thank you for their patience as we respond to this incident.”

My wife and I toured the 15C Duke Humfrey’s Library last year, where the docent proudly informed us of the spanking new facilities that would protect the Bodleian’s books – instead of relying solely on the heavy iron chains attached to the spines of the books. Ah, technology. Hopefully none of the books suffered significant damage. Plus, you gotta love any library that defines “a number of books” as 5,724!

Let this serve as a reminder to libraries and archives everywhere to spend more money scanning all those old works and making them freely available online – isn’t there some billionaire somewhere who has a few hundred million dollars to spend on such a laudable goal? Oxford, it should be noted, has been doing its part, witness their Broadside Ballads Online Database, and their partnership with Google Books. Now if we could just get the British Library to allow photography…

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One response to “Never a good sign”

  1. Callan Davies says :

    I couldn’t agree with this more! Hopefully the books will not be too damaged.
    It’s such a shame that the BL won’t allow photography (surely they could have a special room set aside…?), especially considering how expensive it is to get anything from their ‘imaging services’ dept. There was actually a fire drill (at least I think it was a drill and not just a false alarm) when I was last there, and the entire building was evacuated – that certainly prompted my heart to leap into my throat…

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