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[BKARTS] Librarians rush to salvage flood-damaged items

Librarians rush to salvage flood-damaged items

By Mike Leidemann
Advertiser Staff Writer

Lynn Davis stood in a muddy field with a garden hose and gently washed down
a 200-year-old map of the Sandwich Islands.

UH library technician Verna Young hangs up aerial photos to dry in Hamilton
Library, which was flooded Saturday.
Richard Ambo . The Honolulu Advertiser

Mabel Suzuki carefully rinsed off rare aerial photographs of remote
Micronesian islands and hung them to dry on a piece of string, using hastily
purchased clothespins from Costco.

Rebecca Knuth looked over the place where her office walls had been and
mourned the loss of a lifetime of personal books and papers.

All through the University of Hawai'i's Hamilton Library, and all over the
Manoa campus yesterday, students, staff and faculty members scrambled to
salvage precious and priceless documents swept away or damaged in the
Halloween Eve flood.

"It's a scene of complete devastation," interim UH President David McClain
said. "It's going to take a long time to recover."

Volunteers worked doggedly to salvage some of the 90,000 maps and tens of
thousands of archival photographs that were drenched when a river of muddy
water roared through the basement of Hamilton Library, tearing out walls,
ripping down bookcases and ruining card catalogs and computer servers.

The basement housed the university's map collection, government documents
room, collections services staff, and the School of Library and Information
Sciences. The flood also knocked out a computer room that allows online
searching of the library's collections.

"The entire computer room is history," said Jean Ehrhorn, associate
university librarian at Hamilton.

No damage estimates were available yesterday, but structural damage was

More irreplaceable were the one-of-a-kind collections, like the first known
aerial photographs of Micronesia or dozens of rare maps dating to the 1700s.

"This has been a major depository for decades," Ehrhorn said. "We're
optimistic that a lot can be saved, but time is a big factor."

While students rinsed and air-dried the most important of the documents one
by one in rooms still without power, staff members fanned out across campus,
carrying black plastic garbage bags, to locate documents that had been swept
away. They found items as far away as Dole Street and the lower campus
athletic fields.

"At first you're in shock, but then you just kick in and start saving
things," said Davis, the head of the library's preservation department.

Conservationists had only 48 hours to rescue the most valuable items in the
collection. After that, damaging mold begins to grow on the paper, Davis

Within hours of hearing of the flood Saturday night, librarians began
planning the first "triage" effort, Ehrhorn said. The first volunteers
started showing up at 7 a.m. Sunday. Conservation specialists from the
Bishop Museum, the state archives, 'Iolani Palace and elsewhere arrived to
lend an expert hand.

By yesterday afternoon, thousands of the rarest pictures had been washed and
hung to dry. Most of the priority maps, still lying flat in their
bathtub-sized metal drawers, were rinsed and being transferred to
refrigerated containers. Dozens of muddy computers were lined up on a
sidewalk, waiting to be scrubbed and, hopefully, have their hard drives

Still, thousands of documents were lined up in muddy boxes, waiting for
action. Those would be frozen first, then thawed and cleaned as time

"I may be working on this for the rest of my career," Davis said.

The water ripped out nearly every wall in the basement and destroyed the
private work of nearly every professor.

Reach Mike Leidemann at 525-5460 or mleidemann@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx


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