Puerto Rico's libraries, archives and museums road to recovery: A timeline of events after Hurricane Maria

Interview: Conservatorio de Música de Puerto Rico

By: Carlos R. González-Rovira
Date: May 2019

            María del Carmen Maldonado is the interim director of the Amaury Veray Library in the Puerto Rico Conservatory of Music. The Conservatory is a public university specializing in music education. The Amaury Veray library has been a part of the Conservatory since its inception in 1959. It received its current name in 1995, in honor of Puerto Rican composer and Conservatory professor Amaury Veray. It is a part of the Conservatory’s Learning Resources Center (Centro de recursos para el aprendizaje), which includes the university archive, Office of audiovisual services, digitization area and the Center of Technological Resources. The Amaury Veray Library has circulation and reference areas as well as computer labs. It also houses special collections: Puerto Rican Collection (Colección puertorriqueña), Institutional recordings (audiovisual recordings of concerts, master classes, festivals, etc.)
      In order to prepare for Hurricane Maria, the library staff took the following steps: disconnecting any electronic equipment and moving it to a higher location (from the floor up to the desk). Any boxes that were on the floor were also moved. Plastic coverings were put on carts which contained books that were in the process of being cataloged. Paintings were taken down from the walls and stored in the archives. In the archive, shelves were moved away from a wall that was known to contain drainage pipes behind it. Backups were made of the library’s servers; these are usually stored in site, but they ensured that remote backups were made as well.

      When the Hurricane struck, the library was flooded in about two inches of water. A number of dropped ceiling tiles fell down, most of them in the circulation area, but also in the computer lab. As a consequence of this, water came into the affected areas. Due to a lack of power following the hurricane, in conjunction with a lack of proper ventilation, mold began to appear; it spread throughout the collections, walls, and furniture. The collections that where affected the most were the reference collection and the “ensemble room” (sala de conjuntos). Even after taking the appropriate measures and preparing the area for the coming of the hurricane, a box containing magazines was inadvertently left on the floor, which caused it to become wet. Some books became mildly wet. Despite some dropped ceiling tiles falling in the computer lab, only one keyboard suffered irreversible water damage. Students, maintenance staff and university personnel worked to remove water left on the premises, with the help of water vacuums.

      Due to a slow restitution of power and a dearth of available generators, library employee Natalia Hernández contacted professor Hilda Teresa Ayala (University of Puerto Rico, Mayagüez campus), who, in turn, contacted University of British Columbia conservator Anne Lama in order to learn about mitigation strategies and Hernández also contacted Carlos González from the Indoor Environmental Company. In accordance with their recommendations, the library’s doors were opened for four hours every day to ensure proper airflow; and resources were placed in a location which provided the greatest amount of natural lighting, in order to fight mold growth. The Puerto Rican collection was removed from its area and was dried, disinfected and cleaned by library staff. When a power generator became available, fans were used to increase ventilation. Natalia Hernández attended conferences to learn about funding availability. A cleaning company was also contracted to treat the collections and inhibit mold growth. When power was finally restored, the same company was hired to provide further cleaning and disinfecting services.

      Emergency funding was obtained from the National Endowment for the Humanities. This allowed the Conservatory to hire two students who rebound the Band and Orchestra collections. There are plans in place to purchase dehumidifiers and air scrubbers, as well as a power generator. Plans are also being made for digitizing special collections. Maldonado stressed the need to document the extent of the all damage sustained and steps taken in order to mitigate it, as it will help the institution both for assessment purposes and for preparing a prevention plan that will attempt to forestall damage, should a similar even arise. The library’s prevention plan is currently in the process of being developed.

      Amongst the lessons learned was mentioned the necessity of cooperation between peers both in and outside the institution. Personnel from different areas throughout the Conservatory of Music came together in a time of crisis and contributed to alleviating the damage suffered, in an attempt to return to regular operations and keep offering services to the institution’s students. In addition to the aforementioned collaborators, Miriam Centeno, collections care coordinator from the University of Illinois, was cited as an invaluable help. Her workshops were described by Maldonado as being in instrumental in the library’s recovery efforts.

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