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Library report warned of leaks before flooding

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UNM's Centennial Science and Engineering Library, pictured, was hit hard by a recent torrential rainstorm. A report warned that the facility was in need of attention because of leaks. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

UNM’s Centennial Science and Engineering Library, pictured, was hit hard by a recent torrential rainstorm. A report warned that the facility was in need of attention because of leaks. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2014 Albuquerque Journal

One week before a torrential rainstorm damaged historical documents at one of the four University of New Mexico libraries this month, an internal report warned that the facility was in need of attention because of persistent leaks.

The document also found that all four UNM libraries are essentially out of shelf space and that Zimmerman Library was in violation of the state fire code because of some sprinkler head locations.

The report, dated July 25, was prepared for Richard Clement, the new dean of the College of University Libraries & Learning Sciences. Clement took over the deanship on July 1.

It is his understanding, Clement said Friday, that the fire code violations – which concerned the distance between sprinkler heads and collections – have been taken care of. The other problems, particularly leaks in the Centennial Science and Engineering Library, cannot be solved as quickly.

On Aug. 1, an unusually violent storm dumped 2½ inches of rain on the campus, causing hundreds of thousands of dollars in damage to more than 30 buildings.

Hardest hit was Centennial Library, which was built underground. Between 50 and 60 shelves – 150 to 200 linear feet of historical government documents – suffered water damage. The materials were quickly freeze-dried and taken to a processing center in Fort Worth for thawing and drying.

The report states that Centennial and the William Jackson Parish Memorial Business and Economics libraries were in particular need of attention because of recurring leaks.

Centennial “has a chronic problem with leaking, primarily because it’s underground,” Clement said. “It’s a design problem. Maybe you should never build a library underground?”

But even if the problem were already addressed, the amount of rain the campus experienced that night would have posed a problem, he said.

The report was prepared by Teresa Neely, director of Learning Space Initiatives, and Steven Koch, a research data scientist. It was requested by Mike Kelly, acting dean before Clement came on board.

“The College is out of space for circulating physical collections,” the report says. Of nearly 310,000 linear feet of shelving in the four libraries, 16 percent is empty and most of that is in the Center for Southwest Research in the Zimmerman Library’s Basements 2 and 3, and its Towers.

Some materials are stored in nearly 15,600 square feet of an on-campus building called Elk’s Annex, but it too “leaks, has been vandalized, and is a dangerous health hazard,” according to the report.

Clement said virtually every research library in the country faces an identical space problem, which, at New Mexico State University is even more pronounced than it is at UNM.

One possible solution would be to rent an off-campus storage facility, primarily for valuable books that aren’t used often and for journals that are also available online. But that would be costly. There is also a chance that the libraries could team up with other university facilities and share the cost of storage.

Then there is the possibility of adding more “compact shelving,” in which the racks can be stored close together, but easily moved for access.

“We have a lot of compact shelving already in Zimmerman, and we could install it in Centennial, but I’m not inclined to do that if it floods all the time,” Clement said.

A long-term solution under consideration is to share archival copies of documents that are also online with other universities, sharing storage space and responsibilities. The materials would be available to all students and faculty members electronically, and, if needed, hard copies would be accessible fairly quickly.

UNM is working on just such a potential solution with more than 100 other universities, Clement said.

“But it’s not as easy as it sounds,” he said. “We’re looking at maybe 15 years into the future.”

An alternative would be for UNM to share a centralized storage place with NMSU and the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology, he said. Such a proposal came up some years ago, but never got off the ground. “I don’t know the details, but it sounds like a good idea,” he said. “There is a lot of material that simply doesn’t need to be taking up prime real estate on campus.”

In addition to the Zimmerman, Centennial and Parish Memorial libraries, UNM is home to the Fine Arts and Design Library. Together, they store more than 3 million volumes.

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