One could say the library is the driest place on earth, but not the Panitza Library. A recent flood damaged hundreds of books and periodicals and raised questions about how secure the valuable inventory is.
On September 24, 2019, in the early hours of the night, a major flood hit the Panitza library. Water coming out of a broken pipe in the men’s bathroom flooded the ground floor and basement. Some sections of the library were covered in ankle-deep water.
“I opened the door of the ground floor and stepped into a lake,” librarian Gergana Atanasova said. “I left my bag on the desk and immediately ran to the basement. The real disaster was there. I saw a waterfall coming from the ceiling.”
The basement houses many out-of-print books, multi-volume sets, periodicals and second editions. The water poured directly over two of the university’s special collections and destroyed 523 books and 321 issues of archived periodicals. The estimated cost of all ruined publications is $7,409.90.
“Just as a comparison, we normally purchase about 600 to 650 books per year. So you can imagine that this equals nearly a one-year purchase for our library. This is an enormous loss for us,” Library Director Nikolina Ivanova-Bell said.
Among the lost publications were books donated by Dimi Panitza, the patron of the library. Some of them were special presents for Dimi and Ivon Panitza and were autographed editions.
The librarians, cleaning ladies, facilities management staff and volunteers joined forces. The most urgent task after the flooding was to stop the water and then remove the excess water covering the floors. Then, they dried out the carpets, electrical equipment and the damaged books. The rest of the work was left to dehumidifiers.
On the day of the flood, the humidity level in the basement reached 78 percent. It was restored back within its normal range of 48 percent two weeks after the incident.
The library remained open during the restoration process.
“It was important for us to keep our facilities open for our students to study and our faculty to do their normal job,” Ivanova-Bell said.
The team of librarians managed to save many damaged books with the help of six dehumidifiers and by spreading books out on the dried cement and furniture. Of the saved books, 434 are currently piled in a separate room and await special procedures to protect against mold and mildew.
A specialist from Conservation Lab International Ltd. visited the library a week after the flood to examine the preserved books and assess which could be repaired. The procedures are currently on hold since the negotiations with the insurance company have not been finalized.
Reasons for the flood
Without constant monitoring, there was nobody in the library to signal when the flooding started. Water might have leaked for hours before the librarians entered the building at 7:30 in the morning. According to Director of Operation Todor Todorov, this is the only building on campus that does not have a security guard available 24/7.
The water leakage from the pipe was the result of a broken valve, but the exact reason for the valve’s malfunction is not clear.
“For me, it’s simply an act of God. It’s not human influence,” Todorov said. “Nothing like rise in the pressure of water, nothing like technical influence on the pipes; it just broke itself.”
As a response to the faulty valve, the university took preventive measurements. Ivanova-Bell confirmed that after the incident all the pipes and water sewage system in the library were changed.
However, these measures are to a large degree only protective and not an absolute solution since the health of the library’s inventory is still dependent on other factors, such as the building’s close proximity to the river.
For the past few years, the library has endured several other floods caused by the rise of underground water below the building.
“When the river rises, the level of the water which is underneath the BAC building is also rising,” Ivanova-Bell said. “This is why we sometimes have water coming through the floor of the basement.”
According to Todorov, the underground water penetrates the basement floor because the hydro-insulation membrane underneath the building is damaged.
The correspondence between the insurance company called OZOK Ins., and the Facilities office is still in progress. The contract between the two institutions states requires AUBG to pay for part of the damage expenses.
“It’s a small amount of money that is not seriously influencing the budget of the Facilities department or the budget of the university,” Todorov said.
In the event that OZOK Ins. recovers the losses, the insurance money is estimated to be more than the original net value of the damaged books, magazines and journals. The Facilities office is planning on reinvesting it back into the library. One of the possible projects is to connect the library to the Building Management System (BMS) installed in the Student Center, which measures the humidity and temperature.
“This way we will be monitoring the basement of the library 24/7, not only when the security guards or the cleaning ladies are inside,” Todorov said.
Preventive measures also include installing wells that redirect the underground water before it enters the building and a pump in the basement to remove water that gets through.
Students’ Publications Digital Collection
This year’s flooding inspired the librarians to push themselves further in the implementation of the Students’ Publications Digital Collection. The project was launched in October as an expansion of the long-established AUBG Digital Collections, which until now, compiled only the senior theses collected over the years. The creation of a digital archive of the students’ print publications was first prompted by the strong interest of AUBG alumni to get access to their past work.
AUBG Aspecter, i view and Verve were the first three digitized periodicals in the collection.
“These periodicals carry the history of the university,” Ivanova-Bell said. “They were created in the years of the new democracy in Bulgaria. Students back then were fighting not only for their student rights but also for their civic and democratic rights.”
The team is currently digitizing the AUBG Literary Magazine. Next on the list are Agora, Vox, defacto and Griffin. The Students’ publications project is among the library’s top priorities for the 2019/2020 academic year.
“Our goal is to start thinking more strategically about the ways to preserve all the students’ output from the different departments,” Ivanova-Bell said. This plan includes creating and administering a new digital collection where students will be able to deposit their projects.
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