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Heartbreak, hope mingle as UW-Superior salvages library

Posted on Jun 29, 2012
The UW-Superior community tackles flood recovery with muscle, sweat and a freeze-drying process for soaked books.
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© 2012 Tom Wilkowski

This Flickr slide show contains scenes from the restoration of Jim Dan Hill Library, including interior damage, book inventory and disposal and images of lost books.

The UW-Superior community and a disaster recovery company are working hard to save thousands of volumes from Jim Dan Hill Library that were damaged in the massive flooding that struck the Twin Ports of Superior, Wis., and Duluth, MN June 19-20.

The company, BMS Cat, is managing the campuswide recovery, which involves 16 buildings. Its unique library recovery process freezes water-damaged books as a first step. The books are later freeze-dried in vacuum chambers at a facility in Fort Worth, TX. The technique removes the frozen water from the books by converting it to vapor without passing through the liquid stage.

Although most of the university's collection of more than 200,000 volumes was damaged, university and company officials hope that many books and periodicals can be saved. The team effort includes UW-Superior staff, company employees students hired by the company and other temporary workers.

All this week, recovery crews sorted, scanned bar codes and logged damage details for each sodden book, monograph and periodical. Many of the salvageable volumes were sorted and frozen immediately after the flooding, leaving behind the grim work of cataloging such lost books as "The Cambridge Modern History Vol. XII," "Ingrid Bergman: My Story" and "Matisse on Art".

Overseeing the painstaking inventory work was Deb Nordgren, campus library director. "You know how people love books, especially academic people. It's pretty heartbreaking for them," Nordgren said.

BMS Cat has already sent a sample pallet of frozen books to its freeze-drying facilities in Texas. Once that sample has been dried and examined, university officials will decide on how to handle the remaining seven semi trailer loads of frozen, potentially salvageable books. Results are expected back in late July.

"We have had good luck with books, but you never know exactly how they're going to react until you see the sample," said Craig Martin, regional director for BMS Cat and the site supervisor.

The workers wash dirt from books, pack them tightly in boxes, stack them on pallets and freeze them in semi trailer freezer units. Packing the books tightly and keeping them wet keeps them from warping and expanding. Freezing them stops any microbial growth and puts them in a state of suspended animation, said Colin Young, BMS Cat's project manager. "It's like freezing them in time."

Alas, some books didn't get frozen. Students and employees including Dustin Ritchie, Brett Meyers and Buddy Davidson sorted through plastic bins full of books, removing the covers of some before stacking them in a dumpster for disposal. "It's devastating. It's unbelievable," said Ritchie, 21, a physical education major from Superior, WI. "I don't know any other words for it. I guess you've got to see it to believe it."

Still, Ritchie and fellow student Brett Meyers, 21, an exercise science major from Brooklyn Park, MN, were hopeful that Jim Dan Hill Library would be in good working order in time for fall. "We're moving pretty fast," Meyers said. "The people here are hard workers so that helps a lot."

Nordgren said the campus expects to fill gaps in its collection by replacing some books and journals with online subscriptions and digital versions. The current practice of sharing materials within the UW library system will likely increase as well, she said.

Sixteen of the UW-Superior's buildings sustained some damage in the flood. The hardest hit were the library, Ross Hall, Old Main, and Heating Plant, which took on nearly 30 feet or an estimated 700,000 gallons of water, Martin said.

The company's industrial-sized dehumidifiers have been pumping dried, temperature-controlled air into affected buildings, which pulls moisture from wall board, concrete and other affected building materials. Drying stops any potential growth of molds and allows reconstruction to proceed quickly, Martin said. Air quality samples are taken before buildings are re-occupied.

As great as UW-Superior's damage is, the company has handled much larger recoveries. When Hurricane Ike struck the University of Texas-Galveston Medical Branch campus, the firm handled recovery of more than 100 damaged buildings.

BMS Cat brought five equipment trucks, seven refrigerator trailers, 18 crew leaders and a half dozen circus-sized tents as it ran crews around the clock. "In a week and a day, we'll have all the buildings but the four hardest-hit ready for reconstruction," Martin said.

News Contact: Lynne Williams | 715-394-8213 | lwilli29{atuws}
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