Fire in public library in Georgetown, DC

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Sunday, 29 April, 2007 - 23:00
Washington DC

A message from Lisa Young about the recent fire in the Georgetown public library:

On Monday, April 30, 2007 the Georgetown branch of the DC public library caught fire at noon. The library roof was ablaze in flames when the firemen came to put out the fire. Due to complications in the area with water pressure and fire hydrants not working, the fire quickly spread and the roof collapsed down into the building onto the second floor. The libraries holdings were unfortunately stored in this area, and in particular the Peabody Room which is the DC archive for original maps, documents, books etc for Georgetown was located in this area.

Members of the Washington Conservation Guild responded to the scene on Monday, and quickly set up a chain of command, and coordinated with the DC library officials to perform disaster recovery within the next 24 hours. The firemen began removing paintings and books at the scene on Monday, and initially 27 items were removed and taken to conservation labs close by. The fire lasted until at least 6pm. The Washington Conservation Guild worked with area conservation organizations, museums, and the Smithsonian to establish a plan of action and to mobilize volunteers if necessary. We were given indication that it would be a few days before the building was safe enough to enter and remove the collections.

We received word that the DC library officials had contracted Balfor to arrive on site with freezer trucks to deal with the enormous amount of materials that would be removed from the library when the building was deemed safe. At around noon on Tuesday, May 1, 2007 we were told that items were being removed from the building by fire officials and other people at the site. We mobilized a group of people from the Library of Congress and the WCG to be on site to to find out any information about the recovery effort, to meet with library officials and to help in any way possible. For the most part, Balfor and the DC library officials were handling the situation quite well. WCG members left the site as most of the items removed were being repackaged, inventoried and put into the freezer trucks.

However, at 5pm we received word that the Balfor folks could use extra help into the evening. Six members of the WCG arrived on site to assist with further removal of items from the building, reboxing dry collections and assisting wherever needed.

The Washington Conservation Guild would like to thank the following members for their efforts over the past 2 days. Larry Shutts (Page Conservation), Andrew Robb (Library of Congress), Eliza Gilligan (Smithsonian Libraries), Sarah Stauderman (Smithsonian Archives), Michelle Savantt (NMAH), Erin Blake (Folger Library), Scott Brouard (Hillwood Museum and Gardens), and volunteers from the National Postal Museum.

This effort would not have been so successful without the coordination, advice and support of the American Institute for Conservation staff, Jane Long at Heritage Preservation, and Debbie Hess Norris who assisted us with contacting agencies who were available to help as needed. Mostly, the DC Public Library staff and officials and the staff of the Georgetown library should be commended for their recovery efforts, their on-going communication with the Washington Conservation Guild.

The Washington Conservation Guild is holding its last meeting of the 2006/7 season at Hillwood Museum and Gardens on Thursday, May 3, 2007 at 5pm. We hope all of you will join us for this meeting, where we will host a benefit raffle for the Georgetown Library Fire Recovery. Donations are being accepted through the WCG and can be mailed to the PO Box if you are unable to attend.

Thank you to everyone in the WCG who offered their assistance and was standing by to volunteer if needed. There will be follow-up meetings and additional work to be done, and we may call upon your services in the next few months to assist the library once the collections are stabilized.

Lisa Young
WCG President

Washington Conservation Guild