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Stock image of water in a library with books and papers floating

September 16, 2021

A ‘fortunate flooding event’ at Warrnambool Campus library

‘Hearing the phone call that tells you there’s been a “flood” in your library is something we all dread,’ says Jill Stephens, Campus Coordinator for Deakin’s Warrnambool Campus library.

And yet that is exactly what happened just a few weeks ago, when a routine water pressure test on campus went awry. Our Warrnambool campus might be in a beautiful spot by the water, but we’d prefer if the water stayed out of the library!

Desks in a study area of the library with wet surfaces after a water leak

The water came down through the ceiling onto these desks and the nearby carpet. Thankfully it missed the bookshelves.

What happened?

The day before the incident, the library hydrants and gaskets were tested in preparation for a water pressure test. One pipe was accidently not completely closed off, so overnight the pipe released and water was gushing in the Warrnambool Library.

The flooding happened in the top floor of the library, and it seeped down through light fittings to the bottom level and spilled onto the study desks. Fortunately, it missed the bookshelves.

The flooding was discovered when a staff member arrived on campus Thursday morning. If she hadn’t gone onto campus that day, who knows how long the flooding could have continued for.

The mop up was done immediately by the facilities staff on campus. They brought in the machine ‘the terminator’ that dried up the water within a few hours. By the afternoon, the spot was dry. With no books damaged, Jill says it was a ‘fortunate flooding event’.

A drying machine called 'Terminator' on wet carpet

These industrial carpet dryers were brought in quickly to remove the water and prevent damage to the area.

Learning from historic library floods

As you can imagine, floods pose a significant threat to library collections around the world. One of the most famous library floods happened in 1966, when the Arno River flooded its banks and inundated Florence, Italy with muddy water. The lower floors of museums, libraries and historic sites across the city were breached and damage caused to countless precious items. This included:

A huge recovery effort was launched where volunteers, nicknamed ‘mud angels’, dug through mud to recover items. Conservation experts from around the world joined together to salvage them, setting up a book laundry at the Santa Maria Novella railway station where pages were carefully, washed, pressed and dried. These conservators also began some of the first efforts to combine their knowledge and methods into professional conservation training, for others to learn from in the future.

A man sits at a table holding a paintbrush, working on the restoration of a manuscript. The manuscript appears to have suffered substantial water damage

Manuscripts from Florence’s Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale being restored in the Galluzzo Monastery, after being damaged during flooding in 1966. Image attribution: UNESCO / Dominique Roger

More recently, and closer to home, Australian National University’s Chifley Library was flooded in 2018. The basement – where Parliamentary papers, Hansards, records from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, and dozens of history and philosophy books were stored – ended up under a metre of water. While the librarians assessed which items needed to be restored, the water damaged books were stored in specialised freezers to protect them from mould.

Deakin library disaster preparedness

The library has a thorough disaster response plan to protect people, library buildings and collections during an emergency. There is even an appointed Disaster Recovery Coordinator responsible for providing expert advice and guidance on the recovery of physical items in the case of disasters such as fire or flood.

If you spot a problem in the Deakin library – or something that could become a problem – you can contact security services to report it.

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