Fact Sheet

Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners

Emergency Assistance Program


No institution is immune from emergencies. Because libraries are high use public institutions they are especially susceptible to emergencies. Emergencies may include hurricanes, floods, tornadoes and excessive snow, as well as fires and floods. In each instance, the cost of damage to the building and the collections depends on the magnitude of the emergency and the location of both the emergency and institution. It may only affect a couple of books or the complete collection; those materials ready to be weeded or valuable special collections.

Individual libraries and their parent institutions have the responsibility to plan in advance for emergency situations. Libraries should ascertain that their buildings and collections are insured for full replacement value and should develop a disaster preparedness plan to guide recovery should a disaster occur. Such a plan includes a risk assessment of the geographical location and the physical plant, identifies pertinent staff and their responsibilities in an emergency, lists outside resources, includes a description of established cooperative relationships with other cultural institutions, identifies collection priorities for recovery, and describes specific actions to be taken in preparation for a potential natural disaster (e.g. a hurricane or blizzard) or after an emergency or disaster has occurred. Developing a disaster preparedness plan can be critical to the recovery of collections and the ability to resume normal operations since the ability to respond rapidly is essential.


The Emergency Assistance Program is designed to address the possibility of disasters occurring in one or more libraries by developing a statewide training program for librarians in disaster preparedness, making disaster recovery supplies available in numerous locations throughout the Commonwealth, providing for emergency telephone or on-site technical advice, and making freezing and drying facilities available to these libraries to address their wet materials.


Training: Staff are often unable to enter a building immediately after an emergency because of safety considerations. Since one usually has only about 48 hours before mold begins to grow in a warm, dark, damp environment, this can have a major impact on the work that will need to be done to recover the collections. Being able to act quickly is crucial. Having already developed a disaster preparedness plan will frequently enable a library's staff to act on their own in the event of an emergency. Emergency preparedness workshops designed to allow the participants to learn the essentials of emergency preparedness planning including an introduction to dPlan: an Online Disaster Planning Tool developed by the Northeast Document Conservation Center (NEDCC) and the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners (MBLC) with funding from the Institute of Museum and Library Services and to expose them to the chaos and horror of an emergency are offered on a regular basis by the MBLC throughout the Commonwealth.

Supplies: If a library has developed an emergency/disaster preparedness plan, its staff should have been trained in its implementation and in basic recovery techniques. If this is the case, and if the emergency is relatively small; then they might only need to access disaster recovery supplies and packing boxes to address a relatively small emergency. The Board has prepositioned 100 Rescubes (collapsible, corrugated, high-density polyethylene boxes used to transport wet library and archival materials), two ReactPaks (small disaster recovery clean-up kits, which include basic supplies), and a min-max thermohygrometer in sixteen libraries throughout the Commonwealth for the use of libraries and other institutions in the event of a small emergency. They are located in Andover, Boston, Bridgewater, Falmouth, Fitchburg, Greenfield, Hamilton-Wenham, Nantucket, New Bedford, Northampton, Pittsfield, Quincy, Springfield, Wellesley, West Tisbury, and Worcester.

Technical assistance: In many instances, the advice library staffs need following an emergency can be provided via telephone. Being able to provide basic disaster recovery information and advice to a library's staff can often make the difference between recovery and further disaster. When damage is significant, this assistance might well necessitate an on-site assessment of the situation. Board staff are available to provide advice and technical assistance to libraries in the event of an emergency or disaster either by telephone or on-site.

Occasionally, the expertise of Board staff will not be sufficient to assess the damage and recommend an effective course of action, or these persons may not be available to respond. Therefore, the Board has contracted with the NEDCC in Andover, Massachusetts to provide telephone and/or on-site assistance to public libraries in the event Board staff is not available to provide assistance. Affected libraries need only contact the NEDCC directly or via a collect telephone call any hour of the day or night, any day of the year to be connected to staff for assistance. Any affected institution should contact Board staff, a conservator, or NEDCC in the event of a disaster. Like Board staff, these persons would usually discuss the situation with the affected library staff by telephone to determine, if possible, the extent and the type of disaster that has occurred and any extenuating circumstances that might necessitate a site visit or more complete investigation of the situation.

Recovery - Freezing and Drying: Once an assessment of damage has been made, the first step is often to freeze the affected materials to gain time for later drying, although a small number of items may best be air-dried immediately. If it is necessary to wait, or the quantity of materials is large, or the affected materials are on coated paper; then freezing is crucial to keep mold from growing and to keep the coated papers from blocking . Were the library to be able to handle a small emergency in a non-contaminated situation, then drying and/or freezing and drying might be able to be handled on-site. However, in any situation beyond a few dozen volumes, a library may be unable to cope with the situation. To provide a library the ability to respond to a disaster that is beyond its capabilities, the Board has contracted with Polygon to provide freezing and drying facilities for the affected library materials. This service is available only to public libraries and only upon authorization by designated Board or NEDCC staff for services up to $25,000 not covered by insurance. Libraries should not contact Polygon directly.


The eligibility for this program is as follows:

The Rescubes and ReactPaks that have been located in the sixteen libraries throughout the Commonwealth are available for use by any library, archives, historical society, or town clerk in Massachusetts that has been affected by an emergency. The only requirements are that they be returned once the recovery has been completed. The emergency assistance provided by Board staff is also available to all similarly affected institutions.

Once it becomes necessary to contact the NEDCC or any other professional preservation assistance for advice or an on-site visit or to contact a freezing/drying firm, this program's availability is limited to Massachusetts public libraries.


98 North Washington St., Suite 401 • Boston, MA 02114 • 617-725-1860 • 800-952-7403 (in-state only) • fax: 617-725-0140 • mass.gov/mblc
Page last updated on 06/11/2015