Thursday, March 06, 2008

Kudos to Library visionaries for their diligent fire-safety efforts

After reading again about the ancient Alexandria, Egypt library fire, which wiped out vast records of antiquity, I became concerned that Idaho might be behind the times on yet another important issue. I suspected that fire-suppression systems, protecting our valley’s unique historical records would not be up to snuff, so I went sniffing around with a few pointed questions. After contacting some in leadership positions at Ketchum’s Community Library, the discovery was made that here, it was I, who was backwards; rather than the other way around, since they installed an innovative fire-suppression system several years ago.

Not only that, but The Community Library also has an extensive disaster plan to cover any contingencies. Installed is a firewalled vault, complete with a Halon system to protect their rare book and important paper collections. When activated, these remarkable Halon systems, do not damage books, old newspapers or data systems, while promptly extinguishing fires. Although there is a slight environmental hazard when Halon deploys (as there is with fire itself), the library is in the process of purchasing an updated system. In the event of water-soaked books, caused by activated fire sprinklers, those books would be shipped frozen to an innovative freeze-drying facility for restoration.

I have been assured that the Community Library has always worked closely, and in full cooperation with the Ketchum Fire Department. As occasionally, personnel turnover occurs and improved technologies come along, the library revisits this issue periodically, to assure that not only the building and its patrons will be safe, but so will its priceless contents and historical records.

I am told that this spring, the head archivist for the Idaho State Library will be conducting a workshop on disaster preparedness to which all valley librarians will be invited. It is inspiring to hear that the networking between professionals at the American and Idaho Library Associations, along with the Idaho State Library, keeps them on top of these important concerns for libraries throughout Idaho.

For those smaller libraries with budgets more restricted than Ketchum’s, who might not yet have installed state-of-the-art fire-suppression systems, there is much to consider regarding toxicity, maintenance costs and availability. However, I have faith that farsighted librarians working in conjunction with their local Fire Marshals can target viable preservation and safety upgrade plans, and once those needs are properly presented within communities with corresponding fundraisers, then much support will be discovered by way of handsome donations for better protecting our priceless records of antiquity.

Thank you to Regional Historian Sandra Hofferber and Hailey Fire Chief Mike Chapman for your invaluable insights.

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