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

Interview: University of Puerto Rico Río Piedras Campus Library System

By: Ana I. Steidel
Date: December 2018 

Dr. Miguel Santiago Rivera was the Interim Director of the Sistema de Bibliotecas del Recinto de Río Piedras de la Universidad de Puerto Rico when hurricanes Irma and Maria struck the island. The Library System of the University of Puerto Rico, Río Piedras Campus, is comprised of several libraries: Business Administration, Caribbean and Latin American Studies, Education, Music, Social Work, Public Administration, Library Science and Information Technology, General Studies, Planning, Center of Academic Resources and Research; and several collections: Arts, Documents and Maps, Film, Puerto Rican Collection, Zenobia and Juan Ramón Jiménez, Circulation and Reserve, Project El Mundo / Puerto Rican Digital Library, Josefina del Toro (Rare Books), Reference and Magazines, Library Services for Disabled People. The resources of the Library System have historic, scientific and cultural value. The Library System strengthens the teaching, learning, research and creative work at the University and contributes to the international exposure of the Río Piedras Campus.

Dr. Santiago was Interim Director of the Library System starting August 2015 and was responsible for overseeing the long recovery from Hurricane Maria until July 2018. In the interview he talks about preventive measures before the hurricane, for example, sealing the entrance to the José M. Lázaro Library building with wooden panels to prevent water from entering the building and damaging the Prometeo painting (by Rufino Tamayo) that is located very close to the front entrance.

The fragility of the roof contributed to the flooding in the main library, José M. Lázaro Library. There were sections of the Lázaro Library that needed to be closed: Arts, Josefina del Toro (Rare Books), Red Graduada, Zenobia y Juan Ramón Jiménez, Caribbean and Latin American Studies. Due to lack of power after the hurricane mold developed within the Library. After October 31, when the power came back on, the mold spores spread through the air conditioning system. The maintenance company did the annual cleaning that helped improve the situation within the building. The Lázaro Library reopened in January 2018. Prior to that date it was offering limited service. A moth problem developed and it was closed briefly for fumigation in June 2018.

Other buildings suffered greatly the impact of the hurricane: The School of Communication, the Music Library and the General Studies Library. The personnel was relocated and the service was limited.

Dr. Santiago suggests that the roof of the Lázaro Library be repaired in order to sustain the impact of another hurricane or heavy rains. He also believes that it would be helpful to create a bunker-like area within the building that would allow for core, unique and very valuable resources to be moved there temporarily to prevent damage. And he thinks that the air conditioning systems need revision and upgrade.

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