Tarps remain in Rock, protecting books from leaks

Library roof to be replaced during summer of 2005

Friday, December 15, 2006

The roof of the Rockefeller Library will be removed and replaced next summer, in response to worsening water leaks on the fourth floor that threaten the books in the stacks. But until then, tarps covering many shelves will remain in place, in an effort to protect the books under them.

The decision to replace the roof was made after frequent leaking last year forced library staff to place clear plastic tarps over dozens of shelves.

The roof has “been leaking for a few years, but it’s been on and off,” said Eric Shoaf, leader of the library preservation services department, and fairly minor efforts had been sufficient to deal with the problem over the past decade.

But the “past year has been the worst,” according to Barbara Schulz, head of library business services and facilities.

Leaks on the Rock’s fourth floor became both more frequent and more serious, and as a short-term solution dozens of plastic tarps – currently 29 – were placed over shelves in the most endangered areas, along with several large trash cans and buckets placed in the aisles to catch water. Most of the books currently covered by the plastic sheets are either bound journals, including the Yale Law Journal and books dealing with law.

Due to extreme overcrowding, the librarians “didn’t have the luxury to not put some books” in the affected areas, Shoaf said. The overcrowding in the Rock and other campus libraries, though, will be addressed by the opening of the new Library Collections Annex in nearby Cranston, scheduled for February 2005.

Surprisingly, though, damage to books has been fairly minimal: according to Whitney Pape, a library preservation expert, “things get damaged, but we can usually save them,” thanks to shelvers who quickly identify problems and use the “disaster kits” installed in the stacks.

Many books have required minor in-house repair or even rebinding, but so far no volumes have been destroyed. And the Office of Environmental Health and Safety has tested the stacks for mold and come up negative.

Shoaf pointed to several reasons for the worsening leaks. The Rock dates to the 1960s, and its roof is deteriorating with age; the nature of its molded concrete design makes it more prone to cracking.

And Shoaf said the contractors who repaired equipment mounted on the roof a couple of years ago seemed to have damaged the roof in the process. The rubber membrane in the roof that helps protect against leaks has cracked, as have many drains, though those have been replaced.

Some other repairs were made over the summer to the roof, and they seem to have been mostly successful – so far this academic year there has been only one minor leak, which Schulz attributed to last week’s rain combined with unusual wind – and the tarps will be coming off the shelves soon.

But Shoaf said the roof is “in need of replacement,” and the University has decided that a new roof is necessary to protect the library’s collection.

According to Schulz, the project is now in its planning stages, and funding has been requested and approved from the Facilities Management operating budget. Once planning has finished, the bidding process for contractors will begin and the contract will be awarded. Preparatory work will begin on the roof in the spring, followed by the roof’s removal and replacement – probably in four large sections – during the summer’s good weather.

The cost of the project cannot be determined yet, said Gary Martins, project coordinator at Facilities Management, since the exact scope of the work is not yet known and the bidding process is not complete. However, Pape said she imagines it will be “a huge amount of money.”

Schulz said Facilities Management is being sensitive to student as well as plant needs, and will not do “anything that would create noise or disturbance to the buildings” during the spring exam period. Books on the fourth floor will remain in place during the removal and replacement process, though steps will be taken to protect them from the weather and construction.

Both Shoaf and Schulz emphasized that the University and Facilities Management have responded quickly to the library’s needs, with Shoaf calling Facilities Management “very responsive” and Schulz saying that “the University hasn’t been lax in any way” in responding to the problems with the roof.

But Schulz admitted that as far as she knew there had been no attempts to inform the larger community about the problems with the roof. Many students seemed confused by the tarps on the fourth floor, as well as by the obvious signs of water leaks, such as calcium deposits on the ceiling.

Louise Sherman ’05 is writing her thesis on international ocean law, and she spends a great deal of time on the fourth floor. “I assume that it’s some attempt at preservation,” she said, but “we don’t understand why.” She called the tarps “a barrier to the process” of browsing the stacks, and she was also critical of the ambience the tarps lent the stacks.

“It does make me feel as though I’m in some sort of attic … or a haunted house,” Sherman said.

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