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Help floods in to preserve Library collections

08 Oct 2021

Last month our Library and Estates teams rose to the challenge when a mains water pipe burst on Oxford Road

Library flood damage

It’s not every day that a water main bursts directly in front of our flagship learning facility, creating a massive sinkhole and flooding buildings across the campus. But the rapid and expert response to the situation by Library staff, Estates colleagues and Greater Manchester Fire Service on Wednesday, 22 September would have you believe that it was.

All libraries, especially those with collections as remarkable as ours, invest time in disaster planning; the implementation of our Library Major Disaster Plan was key to avoiding significant loss during the flood emergency. In particular, the immediate deployment of water defences to stop the flow of water by Ryan Forde (Library Customer Services) and Ciaran Pook (Library Spaces) saved a large number of significant collections.

Items saved include rare atlases and books from the Manchester Geographical Society, two highly significant map collections and a large amount of 19th century printed material.

As well as the obvious damage that water causes to books (as anyone who has dropped a book in the bath will know!) there is also the potential for print collections to sustain longer term damage (for example, mould) if humidity is not controlled.

The Library Executive Team were, purely by chance, all on campus for a strategic planning day and were able to swiftly divert their attention to assessing the situation in the Main Library basements, which had flooded, and were the main cause of concern due to the collections stored there.

A number of Library staff from across all Directorates spent most of the day dealing with the incident in the basements, wading through water, overseeing its removal, and deploying dehumidifiers and air circulation plans to reduce residual moisture.

A Library Post-Incident Team has checked that all the water has been drained or pumped from the plant rooms and under-floor ductwork to help with the control of humidity levels. Spot humidity readings in the Main Library basements now range from 50% to 65% which is thankfully within acceptable limits. 

The team is also busy clearing the affected areas, including removing damp furniture and carpets. Supplies of water defences, or ‘water sausages’ as they are fondly called, have been replenished and we have ordered extra environmental monitors so we can check on conditions remotely.

Professor Christopher Pressler, University Librarian and Director of the John Rylands Research Institute and Library, paid tribute to Library staff: “There will be much more to do in the coming weeks and much to learn from this incident but the main observation from me is something we already knew; we have a simply amazing Library team. Thank you everyone.”

Registrar, Secretary and Chief Operating Officer Patrick Hackett thanked colleagues, adding: "Their dedication and commitment have mitigated the impact of what could have been a very serious set of consequences for our staff, students and indeed many of our precious resources in the Library."