U of C journal collection all wet

By Brent Constantin

Although most of Calgary is experiencing spring-like temperatures, little over a month ago a cold snap caused havoc throughout the city, especially at the University of Calgary.

Burst pipes caused flooding at the U of C’s Health Sciences campus at Foot Hills Hospital and in the new Taylor Family Digital Library, resulting in what Campus Security director Lanny Fritz called “the two biggest losses we’ve had in the last 10 years.”

Fritz said the combined damage was in excess of $1 million.

Because of a decline in elevation between the buildings, the TFDL flooding ran into the basement of the MacKimmie Library where over 9,000 boxes of texts were waiting to be moved to the new Spy Hill High Density Library.

The flooding is the latest in a line of delays to the TFDL, which opened its first two floors this winter, after a heating system and fan issue were detected this winter forcing an upcoming staged closure to the facility.

U of C vice-provost (libraries and cultural resources) Tom Hickerson said the 2.5 million volumes in storage have been separated and sent to different facilities for repair.

“Out of the material that was stored in the basement, about 15 per cent of it we found to be sufficiently damp that we really wanted to freeze-dry it immediately,” said Hickerson.

The majority of the material were chronological runs of academic journals that the university said were not rare enough to be concerned about.

Students’ Union vice-president academic Alyssa Stacy said she’s not sure the texts are easily replaceable.

“They dodge if it’s an issue, they said everything is fine and the books are going to be replaced,” Stacy said. “I think the issue is about the collectables. They had some special collections that were damaged.”

The school has been unable to say exactly which material was damaged because of recording issues during the confusion of quickly moving damaged boxes out of the water.

“They certainly recorded the number of boxes correctly and so forth, but the content within each box was not in sufficient detail for us to be able to make a good judgment to treat various parts of the material moved,” said Hickerson.

All of the materials not in freeze storage are being vacuum dried, but Hickerson said some may not be recoverable.

“There were some that could not be salvaged,” said Hickerson. “While it takes in more water, [wood]-based pages actually can dry out with relatively limited damage to usability. But with what is essentially clay-based paper, the kind of slick magazine-based materials, that material can be significantly rippled.”

The university is taking some solace in the fact that many of the journals damaged are also available online. They will now begin the process of reacquiring replacement journals for those not in electronic form.

“It’s a really terrible thing,” said Hickerson on the loss and the replacement of texts. “It’s not an impossible task, but it’s difficult to tell you what percentage of success we’ll have.”

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