Special collections and university archives move after being hit by tropical storm Ida. damaged

Due to flood damage caused by tropical storm Ida at the beginning of September, the special collections and the university archive of the university libraries (SC / UA) have been closed since October 15th plans resume limited service on January 10, 2022.

Previously located on the lower level of the Alexander Library on College Avenue campus, the SC / UA is home to the Sinclair New Jersey Collection, the Manuscript Collection, the Rare Book and Book Arts Collection, and the Rutgers University Archives.

Sonia Yaco, deputy director and head of SC / UA, said tropical storm Ida brought 9 inches of rain into the building and flooded the floors with about 3 inches of water.

She said conditions in the room stayed that way for 48 hours, affecting supplies, walls and shelves. Yaco said although none of the collections were damaged, moisture on the shelves caused mold to build up, forcing the SC / UA to relocate.

“It’s awful. It’s like a scientist without a laboratory – if you’re a historian and you don’t have access to the raw materials of history, some courses can be difficult to teach. It’s hard to do your own research. We have a lot of people doing theses, writing books and documentation, and we don’t have access to the material, ”she said. “And after (the pandemic) it is particularly annoying because we have just opened again and now have to restrict access.”

The flooding in the SC / UA, Yaco said, was particularly intense due to poor drainage in the area and its proximity to the Raritan River. The building’s drains run down to the river, so no matter what the circumstances, the water will seep through the library floors and cause flooding, she said.

Yaco said flooding has been a recurring problem since the 1990s when SC / UA was relocated to the lower level of the Alexander Library, with at least 15 floods occurring in the room since then. She said the archives were originally upstairs in the building but were moved down when the library expanded.

Andy Urban, a professor in the Department of American Studies and History, said the faculty and staff at SC / UA have been campaigning for a new space for at least 10 years, but their concerns have not been addressed by the university.

“Special collections and university archives have raised concerns about the conditions for years,” he said. “If someone had listened, it might not have happened.”

University spokeswoman Carissa Sestito confirmed this was not the first time the SC / UA had faced water infiltration problems.

“There have been intermittent water infiltration issues affecting the SC / UA in the past, all of which were resolved at the time of the incident,” she said. “(Although) the last flood during Ida was caused by heavy rain and a clogged drain pipe outside the building – the drain pipe repairs were completed last month.

Sestito said the university, along with library staff, is looking for a future location for the collections with temperature and humidity controlled storage areas, as well as more space to store the necessary equipment for conservation, preservation and digitization work.

“This space would also make it easier for users to interact with the collection materials and provide an area where we can collaborate with our campus and community partners on exhibitions and events,” she said.

The Clifford Case Room in the Alexander Library will serve as a temporary reading room for the limited opening of the SC / UA on January 10, 2022.

Urban said that with most SC / UA not available online, damage to the collections could potentially make it impossible for students to continue accessing the resource. He said Rutgers should provide a new room for the SC / UA but said it was unlikely given the poor treatment of the archives by the university.

Beyond physical space, Urban said, the archives and Rutgers libraries in general have experienced a lack of funding and adequate staff. For example, the university has not efficiently replaced key archival staff such as archiving director and university archivist, he said.

“(University President Jonathan) Holloway spoke about the effect that seeing materials from the Yale special collections as a student had on him,” said Urban. “If you want the libraries to become the center of a ‘beloved community’ to use President Holloway’s favorite phrase, you must be willing to fund them and invest in the people who work there.”

Marisa Fuentes, associate professor at the Institute of History and the Institute of Women and Gender Studies, said the SC / UA’s records are a crucial part of the research she is co-editor of the Scarlet and Black Project, a three-volume historical exploration of slavery, race, and student activism in Rutgers.

“(The SC / UA has) rich historical records of the history of Rutgers and New Jersey dating back to the 18th century. They cannot be replaced, so maintaining them is vital, ”she said. “Also, the librarians and archivists we worked with on the project are essential to our research and the academic community in general.”

Fuentes said the SC / UA has been neglected by the university over the decades due to a lack of prioritization of research and libraries in general.

“For the past 10 years, libraries have canceled, not replaced, major high-level magazine subscriptions,” she said. “There are books that we cannot get in our own library and that we have to borrow elsewhere. That is unacceptable for a (public) top research university. “

Urban also said that Rutgers failed to repair and renovate university buildings when they were vacant during the pandemic and now workplaces, classrooms and dormitories have been damaged.

In response to these conditions, he said that the American Association of University Professors and the American Federation of Teachers are ongoing Rutgers worst place to work Competition created to promote awareness of the condition of Rutgers facilities. Urban he said tweeted shared photos with him of the damage to SC / UA to encourage the university to act.

“Faculty and staff are visibly frustrated when they have to work in crumbling buildings that are allowed to be damaged, as was the case with special collections and university archives, and it also puts a strain on student morale,” he said.

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