Updates to flooding incident, February 2009

Update issued on 2 March

Incident summary

At 6.02 on the evening of Thursday 26 February, a flooding incident occurred at the National Library of Scotland, George IV Bridge, due to a fault with a sprinkler pipe joint in the reprographics room on level 12.

The fault was quickly isolated and the water supply halted within 5 minutes, but a large volume of water had already flowed from the pipe. The majority of the water flowed down lift shafts and stairwells but, as is inevitable with such a large volume of water, some has permeated into the collections area and the John Murray Archive exhibition. Overall damage to the collections is relatively light, our Reading Rooms have re-opened and the Library is operational, but there has been some impact on collections and services, as outlined below.

Actions being taken

The impact on the collections is relatively light. However, we take this incident extremely seriously and we are aware that concern will be heightened by the fact that this is the second flooding incident at NLS in less than two years. Accordingly, we are taking the following actions to ensure the safety and integrity of the collection, both now and for the future:

  1. Preservation, conservation and curatorial staff are working on affected areas of the building and the collection, assessing and carrying out any remedial work required. This will include conservation work on individual items, as well as the location and removal of excess moisture from collections areas and returning the Relative Humidity levels to normal. In the latter regard, 24 de-humidifiers have been on over the weekend in affected areas. This week, we will undertake a moisture mapping exercise to identify and treat any residual moisture in the stonework, which will help to ensure that we do not have any issues with mould developing in collection areas.
  2. An independent investigation is underway, the remit of which will be to establish the cause of the incident, to assess the costs incurred and to make recommendations on the ways to minimise future risk to the collection. Until the investigation has been concluded, it is inappropriate to comment further on the causes of the incident.
  3. An internal review will analyse the NLS response to the incident to see if there are any further improvements we can make to our emergency procedures. Our initial view is that these processes have worked well, and the timely, professional and conscientious actions of our own staff have played a key role in minimizing long-term impact on the Library and its collections. The Trustees and Senior Management Team are extremely grateful to all of our staff for their hard work. We will also be conducting an assessment of all recent works carried out in the George IV Bridge building.

Impact on collections

From the roughly 7 million items we hold at George IV Bridge (with roughly the same again housed at Causewayside), a very small proportion of the collection has been affected.

  1. The Library Strongrooms (which contain the majority of our Treasures) were not affected at all, and the impact elsewhere has been limited.
  2. The number of items deemed to be in need of conservation treatment is estimated to be 200-300. The nature of this work will vary from item to item, but will typically involve replacing or repairing bindings, further drying.
  3. Overall, a further 4,000 bound volumes and 500-600 manuscript volumes and boxes were affected and have had to be moved for drying. The Library's Reading Rooms spent the weekend following the incident as a drying area with fans in operation and, subject to further inspection, we anticipate that the vast majority of these items will be returned to the collections shortly. For the bound volumes, the damage has been light. Manuscripts are generally stored in water retardant boxes, and so it is the boxes rather than the manuscripts themselves which have been attended to in the majority of cases.
  4. The John Murray Archive exhibition area was also exposed to water. As those who have seen it will know, there are many electronic fittings in the exhibition area and we are assessing the damage now. Again, there was little damage to the exhibits themselves, although unfortunately the commonplace book of Lady Caroline Lamb was hit by some water. The damage is being assessed at the moment and the appropriate remedial actions will be taken.

Impact on services

The Reading Rooms have now fully re-opened, but there will inevitably be some disruption to our normal service standards, for which we apologise and will endeavour to keep to a minimum.

  1. Reprographics services are disrupted, meaning that some printing and copying requests may take longer to fulfil for the next few days.
  2. The John Murray Archive exhibition is closed to the public until further notice, but we hope to have it up and running in the next three to four weeks.
  3. Our public events programme is unaffected, and our spring exhibition, 'Scots Music Abroad', will open this Friday as planned.

What's next

  1. The clean up will continue, with inspection of collections items and areas for any instances of moisture that may not have been immediately apparent.
  2. The necessary preservation work on affected items will be carried out.
  3. Drying, repair and, where necessary, replacement of the relevant electrical equipment will be undertaken to allow us to restore Reprographic facilities to normal and to re-open the John Murray Archive exhibition.
  4. Work on the Library's Visitor Centre Project will be subject to a delay as we work to ensure the safety of the collections.
  5. We will conclude our own internal review of our response to the incident early next week, and we hope to be able to report on the results of the independent investigation in two to three weeks. Recommendations from the investigations will be implemented as soon as possible.



Update issued on 11 March

There follows an update on the status of NLS collections and services in the wake of the flooding incident which occurred on Thursday 26 February, with up-to-date information on the impact of the incident on our collections and services.

We are, of course, endeavouring to keep any disruption to a minimum. We would like to give our sincere thanks to our readers and visitors for their patience and understanding, to everyone who has been in touch expressing their concern, offering various forms of assistance and most of all to the staff here at the Library for their hard work, dedication and professionalism in these difficult times. Investigations are still ongoing and so there is no further information on the cause of the incident available at this time.

Impact on collections

The number of items in need of conservation treatment is now estimated to be 415, and we do not expect that tally to rise significantly further. The remainder of material which was lightly affected is expected to return to its normal shelving shortly, where it will continue to be monitored as a precaution.

A moisture-mapping exercise has been completed, allowing us to identify areas of the building which will require particular attention in terms of drying with heaters and dehumidifiers. The extent of the areas affected in this way is very limited, but it does include the floor of a Manuscripts strong room, where an outbreak of mould has been detected.

It is important to stress it is an area beneath the floor covering and not the collection itself which is affected. The mould has been isolated and sealed in place, so there is no risk to safety or to the collection, but we will need to clear the area of collections material before the issue can be addressed. Accordingly, material is about to be moved from the strong room to an alternative temporary location whilst the problem is dealt with.

During this operation, which will take around three to four weeks, access to some manuscript material will be limited: e-mail manuscripts@nls.uk in advance if you plan to visit us to consult this material. Manuscript collections Acc.9085 to Acc.10225, plus a few single items, are currently inaccessible.

Impact on services

The Reading Rooms have been open as normal since last Monday (2 March). Whilst there may be occasional disruption to service, the majority of item requests are being dealt with in the usual timescales. Reprographic services are also in operation, although with limited capacity as some equipment awaits repair and/or replacement. Accordingly, there may be some delays in fulfilment of reprographics requests.

Our spring exhibition, 'Scots Music Abroad', opened as planned on Friday 7 March, and our public events programme continues as normal. However, the John Murray Archive exhibition has been affected with moisture in the electronic circuitry. This will require more work than originally envisaged and will unfortunately be closed to the public for the next two to three months.


Update issued on 22 April

Manuscripts material affected by the discovery of mould in a strong room (11 March update) has now been moved to a temporary location and is available again for consultation.

Work continues on the John Murray Archive exhibition, where some electronic circuitry was affected by water. The exhibition will re-open in September alongside the formal opening of our new Visitor Centre. We are taking this opportunity to make some changes and improvements to the exhibition and there will be two new characters to see.

The spring exhibition, 'Scots Music Abroad' closes on 9 May, and we will be opening 'The Original Export', our summer exhibition on Scottish emigration, on 26 June. To be kept up to date on developments, subscribe to our free email newsletter.



Flooding incident page |   news page

Speak me