Hurricane Sandy and the NEH Preservation Assistance Grant

When word came that a hurricane was moving up the eastern seaboard and would soon wreak certain havoc all along the coast, we were prepared.  Our library is located directly on the Long Island Sound, so flood preparation plans were already in place.  The bottom shelf of our storage space is set several inches off the floor, but to be safe everything on those shelves were moved to designated safe rooms on the upper level of the library.  Our archives are also equipped with a storm door, a heavy iron door which can be bolted into place in case of emergencies.  It was locked tight by Sunday afternoon.  Luckily the archives remained dry throughout the storm, but if the worst case scenario had occurred, our disaster recovery plan provides us with the policies and procedures to effectively respond to the emergency.  All of the above was made possible with guidance provided by the NEH Preservation Assistance Grant.

In early 2011 we were awarded the NEH grant, which provided funding for a two day preservation assessment by consultant Tom Clareson (of LYRASIS).  The weeks prior to his visit were spent reviewing the preservation policies and disaster plans of other institutions, and in an effort to not appear completely clueless, we drafted a disaster plan of our own.  Tom was happy to review our draft policies, and with his recommendations we finalized the disaster recovery plan that served us so well during the recent storm.

Tom also helped with our environmental monitoring program.  Although we have control over our archive's HVAC system, and generally maintain a consistent temperature and relative humidity, we had no way accurately logging the hour-to-hour environment of the archives.  In the past we had simply recorded the temperature and RH of our storage room by hand in a notebook, once in the morning and once in the afternoon.  Then we would compile that information in a spreadsheet at the end of the month.  This gave us only two readings a day, and no record of the environment over weekends and holidays.  Tom recommended the purchase of a PEM2 datalogger, which were are produced by the Image Permanence Institute.  This is a very simple and effective way to monitor your archives.  The device essentially runs on its own.  Once a week we plug in a USB drive into the monitor and the data that has been accruing then automatically transfers to the drive.  The data can then be exported into spreadsheets or uploaded online into IPI's online climate notebook.  The devices are easy to use, relatively affordable ($349 a unit), and highly recommended.

After the preservation assessment Tom provided us with a detailed report of his visit.  It covered everything from environmental conditions and storage, to media migration and digital preservation.  We were able to quickly respond to many of his recommendations: these included the aforementioned environmental monitors, moving records off the floor (to the shelves where space allowed), moving maps from hanging files to flat storage, and the purchase of stronger bookends to prevent slumping in our Rare Book Room.  He was also very helpful in terms of future preservation funding by alerting us to a number of additional preservation grants from a variety of government offices.

In September 2011 Tom returned to conduct a preservation workshop at our library.  The talk was open to the public and was attended by a number of librarians and archivists from the New York metropolitan area, as well as many library and archives graduate students.

Overall, the NEH Preservation Assistance Grant proved crucial to protecting our collections, which survived the most catastrophic storm we have seen in many years.  With our preservation and disaster response policies in place I am confident that they will remain safe and sound (and dry), despite their close proximity to the sea.

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