Rain Drenches Pusey Stacks

Unnamed photo
Ming E. Vandenberg

Library conservationists attempt to restore items from the Theatre Collection that were damaged when a water pipe burst in Pusey Stacks due to heavy rain on Saturday.

Heavy rainfall on Saturday night caused a drainage pipe to burst in Pusey Library, resulting in water damage of many valuable holdings.

The 19-person Library Collection Emergency Team promptly responded to the disaster—which harmed an array of objects, from sketches of costumes and set designs, to collections of rare manuscripts, to hand-painted canvas backdrops—and called several curators and conservators for additional support.

Since Saturday’s flooding, the team has focused its attention on removing any remaining water from the collections.

“We’re successfully drying everything out,” said Pamela Spitzmueller, the chief conservator for special collections in the Harvard University and College Libraries.

The pipe burst was discovered by a staff member who was put on an extra shift during Saturday’s downpour to check for flooding, according to Harvard College Library spokeswoman Beth Brainard. The pipe had already been scheduled for a maintenance check, Brainard added.

The library’s emergency team was on site within 10 minutes of the first report and worked throughout Saturday night moving library holdings to drier ground, according to Brainard.

Most affected library materials are currently laid out in areas of Pusey and Houghton libraries, while others are being freeze-dried.

Spitzmueller said that most of the materials in Pusey collections would not suffer from water stains because they were covered with protective layers of mats and folders.

Located near the burst pipe on Pusey Level 1, the stacks that contain the Theatre Collection were most affected by the rain. Water also seeped through the floor down to Pusey 2, which contains rare modern manuscripts.

Brainard lauded the emergency team on their “impressive” response to the flooding.

“The beauty of having this [emergency] team is that they know exactly how to handle the material, as opposed to having volunteers come in,” Brainard said.

She added that the cost of the damage has not yet been estimated, since curators are still working on drying library holdings.

“It’s always hard to put a dollar value on rare and unique items,” she said. In addition to the amount these items may receive at auctions, one must also consider “the value to scholarship, which is almost inestimable.”

Brainard added that although much of the Pusey Stacks remain open, the University archive, theatre collection, and map collection will be closed until a tentative re-opening later this week.

Preservation Librarian Jan Merrill-Oldham said that Harvard’s library emergency response procedures have been effective.

“I don’t think we lost anything,” Merill-Oldham said. “Really good disaster response saves collections.”