Fire Severely Damage Library at CIU

One never knows when tragedy will strike. On May 8th, it struck Columbia International University's G. Allen Fleece Library.

According to Columbia Fire Chief, Aubrey Jenkins, the G. Allen Fleece Library building on the Columbia International University campus in our capitol city and "nearly every book in the building was probably affected in some way by heat, smoke or fire damage." The damage to the Fleece Library and its collection is estimated at $2.5 million.

Read The State newspaper report about the fire. To see images of the fire and its aftermath, CIU has posted photographs in its FLICKR account.

Fires are scary. Aftermaths of fires are scary.

The Emergency Team at the Beaufort County Library has recently updated our disaster plans as instructed by the County's Emergency Management department. We meet throughout the year to check our plan and tweak it in light of new circumstances or information. We schedule fire drills at each of our locations conducted by Fire District staff. We coordinate a staff training session dealing with workplace safety or recovery activities at least annually. It is an active, thoughtful, pro-active team effort. I am proud to work with colleagues Dennis Adams, Laura Hayden, and Stuart Forrest on the Library's Emergency/Disaster Response team chaired by Miriam Mitchell.

We worked hard in March and April to update our plans. Our aim is a plan that will protect life and our collections. Our intent is to efficiently execute the plan should we have to put it into action. Of course, we all have our fingers crossed that we won't have to use it at all -- ever! But isn't it much better to have a disaster recovery plan and not need it, than to need one and not have it?

Every emergency situation has as its first priority: Minimize risk to human life. There is likely to be glass and water puddled throughout the building after the fire fighters leave. Falling down and breaking your leg or neck would not be a good thing to do. Getting electrocuted would not be a pleasant shocking experience. The Library aims to protect human life first, then move on to protecting library "stuff."

However, one cannot lollygag with starting recovery efforts, particularly in libraries, because of what we store: lots and lots of books, papers, art, and audio-visual materials just waiting to decay with mold, mildew, and disintegration of substrates. Therefore, time is of the essence.

The window for preventing a mold breakout is less than 48 hours. And a mold outbreak is dangerous for the recovery of materials plus it's a health hazard for humans. In the case of mold outbreaks, prevention is worth more than a pound of cure -- it can also mean the difference between a library getting up and running within a few days to a month, a library having to gut its entire collection and starting over -- perhaps in an another location with all new materials -- or a library closing down altogether forever.

Arm yourself with information on what to do in case a fire breaks out at your home and damages your family treasures. To learn about how to recover book materials damaged by fire, smoke, or heat, study the Northeast Conservation Center online pamphlet "Emergency Salvage of Wet Books and Records."

About the Author

Grace Cordial has been responsible for the day-to-day operation of the Beaufort District Collection at the Beaufort County Library since 1999.  The Beaufort District Collection exists to acquire, preserve, maintain and make accessible a research collection of permanent value which records the history, culture, and environment of our part of the South Carolina lowcountry.  Besides the research room, Cordial manages the “Virtual BDC:” the BDC web pages, the Online Obituary Index, two digital collections, a new BDC.BCL Facebook page, and the Connections blog.  
Among her duties is to coordinate or present programs about local history, Gullah culture, and our coastal environment, including occasional instructional sessions about how to perform historical and/or genealogical research.