Emergency Assistance Brochure

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No institution is immune from emergencies. The cost of repairing damage to buildings and collections ravaged by fire, flooding, fierce winds, heavy snows, vandalism, or other disasters may be overwhelming for a library, archives, historical society, museum, or town clerk's office. Therefore, in response to the critical need for both financial and advisory assistance, and cognizant of several recent instances where such help would have been invaluable to the libraries, the Board of Library Commissioners authorized the development of the Emergency Assistance Program in 1997, perhaps the first state program of its kind in the United States.


While libraries bear the responsibility to plan for emergencies by having a disaster preparedness plan in place, outside help is often needed. The Emergency Assistance Program (EAP) is designed to address the possibility of disasters occurring in one or more libraries by developing statewide disaster preparedness training for librarians, archivists, and records custodians; purchasing and making available disaster recovery supplies; providing for technical advice; and making freezing and drying facilities available to salvage library materials.

Program Components

Training. Workshops are offered regularly by the Board of Library Commissioners to teach library staff the essentials of disaster preparedness planning including an introduction to dPlan: an Online Disaster Planning Tool developed by the Northeast Document Conservation Center (NEDCC) and the MBLC with funding from the Institute of Museum and Library Services and the steps to take immediately following an emergency. Within 48 hours, for example, mold begins to grow on library materials in a warm, damp environment, and the nature of the library's response can have a major impact on the recovery - or loss - of those collections. Being able to act quickly and knowledgeably is crucial.

Supplies. The Board of Library Commissioners has stored a quantity of recovery supplies in sixteen key public library sites throughout the Commonwealth. These include 100 Rescubes (collapsible corrugated high-density polyethylene boxes for the transport of wet library and archival materials), 2 ReactPaks (small disaster recovery clean-up kits which contain basic supplies), and a min-max thermohygrometer. These supplies are available for use by any institution in Massachusetts in the event of a small emergency. The only requirement is that they be returned when recovery is complete.

Technical Assistance. Designated staff members of the Board of Library Commissioners and the six regional library systems have received training in basic disaster recovery techniques and are available to provide information, advice, and assessment either by telephone or on-site visit. Such assistance can often mean the difference between recovery and further damage. If the emergency has reached major proportions, their level of expertise may not be sufficient. Therefore, the Board has budgeted up to $1,000 per library, for no more than ten emergencies per year ($10,000 per year total), and contracted with the NEDCC in Andover, MA, to provide telephone and/or on-site assistance to public libraries, but only in the event that neither regional nor Board staff is able or available to provide assistance. Affected public libraries need only contact the NEDCC, on call twenty-four hours a day any day, to be connected to staff for assistance.

Recovery - Freezing and Drying. In minor emergencies, libraries may be able to handle the drying of materials, or the freezing/drying process, on their own. If more than a few dozen volumes are affected, however, a library may be unable to cope with the situation. Therefore, the Board of Library Commissioners has contracted with a professional service, Polygon, to provide freezing and drying facilities for large quantities of damaged materials. This service is available to public libraries, but only upon authorization by designated Board or NEDCC staff, to a limit of $25,000. This contract has been designed so that municipalities may contract with Polygon for services beyond those stipulated in the contract, if that becomes necessary, without initiating a new bidding process. (Libraries should not contact Polygon directly.)


The Rescubes and ReactPaks that have been placed in the sixteen libraries throughout the Commonwealth are available for use by any library, archives, historical society, or town clerk in Massachusetts affected by an emergency. The sole requirement is that these supplies be returned once recovery has been completed. The emergency technical assistance provided by regional and Board staffs is also available to all similarly affected institutions.

If the regional and Board staffs are unavailable, the affected institution's staff should then contact a preservation professional with disaster training. However, as part of the MBLC's Emergency Assistance Program public library component, contact with NEDCC or Polygon is available only to Massachusetts public libraries.


Steps to take immediately following the emergency:

  1. Consult your disaster plan.
  2. Contact the library's insurance agent.
  3. Assess the extent of the damage with the insurance agent unless you are given permission to proceed without the agent
  4. Determine what action should be taken to recover the affected materials and what supplies are needed.
  5. Make a decision as to whether you feel you can handle the situation alone or whether you need outside assistance.
  6. If the amount of affected library materials is not large, and the staff feels able to handle the salvage themselves, they should then contact the nearest site listed below for recovery supplies (Rescubes and ReactPaks) and arrange to pick them up. Libraries and archives are also responsible for returning these supplies to the storage site when they are finished using them.
  7. Using the supplies, library staff should proceed according to the procedures outlined in their disaster preparedness plan, if there is one. Otherwise, seek advice from the designated regional or Board staff.
  8. Contact the designated regional or Board of Library Commissioners staff for telephone and/or on-site assistance if necessary.
  9. If neither of these persons is available, contact a preservation professional for telephone and/or on-site assistance. Public libraries see below.

Public Libraries only (The following parts of the MBLC's Emergency Assistance Program are limited to public libraries):

  1. If neither regional nor MBLC assistance is available, contact NEDCC for telephone and/or on-site assistance.
  2. If the amount of damaged materials is substantial and beyond the capabilities of the local library staff, then designated Board or NEDCC staff can authorize a call to Polygon for the packing, freezing and drying of materials.

For Emergency Assistance call:

Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners at (617) 725-1860 or (800) 952-7403 (in-state)

For public libraries, if none of the above is available then contact:
Northeast Document Conservation Center at (855) 245-8303 (collect calls accepted 24-hours-a-day).

Storage Sites for Recovery Supplies

Andover, Memorial Hall Library

(978) 623-8400

Boston Public Library

(617) 536-5400

Clement C. Maxwell Library, Bridgewater State University

(508) 531-1392

Falmouth Public Library

(508) 457-2555

Fitchburg Public Library

(978) 829-1780

Greenfield Public Library

(413) 772-1544

Hamilton-Wenham Public Library

(978) 468-5577

Nantucket Athenaeum

(508) 228-1110

New Bedford Free Public Library

(508) 991-6275

Northampton, Forbes Library

(413) 584-8550

Pittsfield, Berkshire Athenaeum

(413) 499-9480

Quincy, Thomas Crane Public Library

(617) 376-1300

Quinsigamond Community College, Alden Library Circulation Desk

(508) 854-4581

Quinsigamond Community College, Campus Police

(508) 854-4221

Springfield City Library

(413) 263-6800

Wellesley Free Library

(781) 235-1610

West Tisbury Free Public Library

(508) 693-3366

Page last updated on 11/3/2015