Midwest and Regional Vendors: In Case of Emergency, Call ?

Jamie Nelson, Head of Special Collections and Archives, DePaul University

All libraries need to be ready to care for their collections in the event of a disaster.  Some of the earlier installments of this CARLI Preservation Committee series on disaster planning focused on types of disasters, preparation and training for an effective staff response, and kits and supplies for in-house recovery work.   But if your disaster is more widespread, dangerous, or damaging than your institution can reasonably or safely handle, do you have any service vendors on speed-dial? 

Your disaster plan should include vendors, their services, and their contact information, but that is just the bare minimum.  What if the cost for the services exceeds the value of your materials, or the amount your institution (or its insurance policy) can pay?  What if the vendor or your institution requires a membership, purchase order, RFP, or other approval process before starting work?  What if the disaster disrupted other services on campus, and your business office is unable to assist you or approve a vendor relationship in your moment of crisis? What if a local service vendor is overwhelmed because the disaster that put you in this predicament affected their entire service region, and they are unable to respond to all of these dire situations at once?

Because this CARLI Preservation Committee series is meant as a helpful guide and not a source of anxiety and nightmares, we can circle back to a manageable to-do list that you can tackle over time.

  • Start by assessing your greatest risks and most likely sources of damage. Consider midwestern  weather events and disasters  as well as your library’s specific location (proximity to a body of water, etc.),  your building’s structural vulnerabilities (basement storage, top floor with a leaky flat roof, etc.), and the formats most represented in your collections.
  • Identify potential vendors, especially those who can respond to your greatest vulnerabilities and priority collections. Consult regional and statewide lists, such as the Chicago Area Disaster Response Resource File hosted by the Newberry Library, and nationwide lists such as the  disaster recovery service providers on the Northeast  Document Conservation Center (NEDCC) website and disaster and emergency response services listed on Conservation OnLine (CoOL). 
  • Search business directories or do keyword searches online to uncover companies in your area that may be able to provide specific services, even if they are not advertised as “disaster recovery.”  Consider necessities like temporary labor, relocation and storage, freeze drying, and equipment rental. For ideas on types of services, see the CoOL list of commercial services and the Newberry’s Chicago Area Disaster Response Resource File.   
  • Identify, learn from, and share with regional partners.  By consulting with other cultural heritage organizations in your area, you may be able to find vendors that you had not identified, or you may be able to share the load in researching and contacting potential vendors to add to your respective disaster plans.  Reach out to partners in the Illinois Collections Preservation Network (ICPN), which is divided into five regions in Illinois, and ask about their vendor list as well as services they can provide.  For those Illinois institutions nearer to other states and metropolitan areas, consult networks and state and university libraries across the border, realizing that companies with addresses in Indiana, Iowa, Missouri, Kentucky, and Wisconsin may be closer to you than those in Illinois.
  • Interview and make arrangements with your vendors.  Some of your best resources for consultants or access to services may require a membership.  Companies, especially national companies with regional offices, like BMSCat, Polygon and Belfor, may provide expedited or priority service to institutions with a pre-service contract.   Engaging in the pre-service contract gives you time to check references, learn pricing for various scenarios, ask about the company’s liaison services with insurers and their own liability, ask about training for permanent and on-call personnel, and document collection-specific concerns you may have about security and handling for your collections – all conversations and information more easily shared in a leisurely conference call rather than a frantic call to their 24/7 customer service line in your time of need.  

As Beth McGowan notes in the first installment of this series, “Slow and Steady Gets You There” when it comes to creating a comprehensive disaster plan.  Evaluating services, vendors, and contracts may seem like a huge up-front time investment, but it is one where the payoff of prompt service, project and quality expectations, and pre-approved budget and spending can make all the difference for your collections should disaster strike.



BMS Cat. “Become an Account.”

Conservation OnLine (CoOL). “Commercial Services, Suppliers, etc.”

Schoenborn, Melanie R. and Joseph Feigl, III. “Watch Out for Midwest Disasters.”

Illinois Collections Preservation Network (ICPN). “ICPN Partner List.”

Newberry Library. “Chicago Area Disaster Response Resource File.”

Northeast Document Conservation Center (NEDCC). “24/7 Collections Emergency Phone Assistance.”


Continue to the next article: The Wet and Wily World of Preservation Disaster Statistics

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