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Monday, May 16 • 4:30pm - 5:00pm
(General Session: GO - Emergency Response) Ready for Reaction: Harvard’s Library Collections Emergency Team

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Harvard University’s seventy+ library system has an extensive network of emergency planning, preparedness, response, and recovery resources. The cumulative impact of an average of ten emergencies each year has necessitated maintaining a broad-based program with the Library Collections Emergency Team as the centerpiece, allowing us to confront new and unexpected challenges with confidence in our ability to make well-informed decisions on the fly. The Team is a dynamic program that evolves to meet changing needs of the University by building and maintaining strategic collaborations within and outside of our broad community. Our story can inspire regional networks with ways to increase their effectiveness by sharing responsibilities, developing and training around best practices, reducing stresses to improve response quality, and taking advantage of existing resources.

Harvard’s Library Collections Emergency Team consists of 20 conservators and preservation professionals with a variety of backgrounds and specialties (book, paper, photo, audiovisual). We have responded to 112 incidents in 15 years, including challenges such as burst storm drains, plumbing and HVAC failures, mold outbreaks, and pest infestations.The team provides 24/7 phone advice and in-person response support. As a large group, we distribute responsibility among team members and use a buddy approach to support thorough communication and decision-making. We have worked with Harvard’s environmental health and safety group to develop best practices for safe emergency response.

Through a critical and unusually robust training program, we have created a centralized response team that is highly effective, and a community of library staff who are comfortable with initial response procedures and emergency planning. Bi-annual intensive, hands-on training consists of a mock water emergency with a variety of deaccessioned collection materials in which participants learn first-hand how to be aware of their own safety, communicate to initiate response action, take preemptive action to prevent further damage, and set up a salvage operation. Other training components include material-specific salvage techniques (i.e. audiovisual identification and salvage), tabletop exercises, emergency planning workshops.

Lessons learned over the years include: how to write your plan so that it can actually be used during an emergency; how not to underestimate the impact of emotions and stress during an emergency; how to improve safety through training; how to evolve an emergency program with the needs and capabilities of the community; how to deploy a response team into an unfamiliar situation; how to organize effective debrief meetings. We hope other regional or other networked emergency teams could benefit from our mistakes and developments over time.

avatar for Priscilla Anderson, [Fellow]

Priscilla Anderson, [Fellow]

Senior Preservation Librarian, Harvard Library, Weissman Preservation Center
Priscilla Anderson is a Senior Preservation Librarian in the Weissman Preservation Center at Harvard University, providing library preservation consultation and services to over seventy libraries and archives that make up Harvard Library, one of the world’s largest academic library... Read More →


Lauren Telepak

Collections Conservator, Harvard Library
Lauren Telepak is a Collections Conservator at Harvard University where she helps manage a production-oriented conservation treatment program for Harvard Library’s general and circulating collections. Prior to Harvard, Lauren worked and volunteered in numerous conservation labs... Read More →

Monday May 16, 2016 4:30pm - 5:00pm
Room 710 B

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