JIS News

Executive Director of the National Library of Jamaica (NLJ), Winsome Hudson, is assuring Jamaicans that the National Library is adequately prepared and committed to protecting the nation’s invaluable collections from disasters, especially tropical storms and hurricanes.
“We weathered Gustav very well, but it wasn’t luck, because disaster preparedness and preparing for hurricanes is at the forefront of our operations and that has to be so, because as a National Library, our key function is to preserve Jamaica’s publications for present and future youth,” she tells JIS News, in an interview, post Tropical Storm Gustav.
“We have a disaster preparedness plan that we put into operation at the beginning of every Hurricane season. In June we pull out our plan and we start to activate it. We are constantly on alert and it has paid off over the past couple of years. From Hurricane Ivan up to now, we have not had any problems with hurricane or water damage. Preparing for hurricanes is not a by-the-way function for us,” she asserts.
Integral to the NLJ’s success in disaster preparedness, is a team of library wardens, who are responsible for ensuring that each of the library’s three floors is in kilter, and supplies are in place to protect materials.
“Once the hurricane season begins in June, the floor wardens have responsibility for helping the facility’s managers to ensure that there are no leaks, all the windows have their louvre blades, nothing is on the floors and that the drains are kept clear,” she points out.
“The floor wardens will also check to see that our supplies are in place.the plastic sheathings to cover shelves and tables, garbage bags and cardboard boxes to pack things. Should the worse happen, in our supply kit we have water boots and blotting paper to dry out our books,” Mrs. Hudson adds.
The Executive Director also has advice for persons who want to be able to protect and preserve their private collections in the face of the dangers of a tropical storm or hurricane. She gives an account of what she normally does at home during the lead up to a hurricane.
“You prepare for a hurricane long before you get a hurricane warning and what you need to do is what we do at the National Library, which is to ensure that you have your supplies in place, and supplies include garbage bags,” she says.
“For Gustav I had my garbage bags ready and when it came down to a warning, I packed away the family photo albums and official documents in garbage bags and I double bagged those and put them on high places like the table. I also removed the bottom drawers from bureaus and so on and placed them high and covered them with plastic,” she explains.
Mrs. Hudson is also advising persons not to throw away their shower curtain liners, which she informs can prove very useful during times of inclement weather.
“When you are replacing your shower curtain liners, the old ones.don’t throw them away, save them for the hurricane season, so you can have them to cover your bookshelves, your valuables, and also you need to keep rolls of paper towel, so that in case your paper documents.your personal books get wet, you can use these paper towels to interleave in the books to help dry them out,” the Executive Director tells JIS News.
As devastating as the effects of a hurricane can be, the Executive Director notes that it is not the only threat to the national collections.
“Fire is also a threat and I would like you to know that we have a fire prevention programme in place. Each of the floors here has multiple smoke detectors and a fire prevention system which is linked to the York Park Fire Station,” she informs.
“It has been tested in the past by deliberate testing as well as the smoke detectors are so sensitive that sometimes dust triggers them and I am very pleased to tell the country that every time it has been tested, either by our deliberate testing or false alarm, so to speak, York Park fire trucks are here within 10 minutes,” she says.
Mrs. Hudson also points out that heat is another threat. “In addition to fire and water, heat is another threat to the collection and so here at the NLJ, it is critical for us to have air conditioning in place to keep the collection at a temperature that discourages pests and disintegration from the surface and air temperature. We have each floor here air conditioned,” she notes.
Despite having this comprehensive and multifaceted disaster preparedness plan, the NLJ is not resting on its laurels and is committed to keeping abreast of developments regarding new preservation techniques and best practices.
“We keep abreast with the practices in the National Library sector internationally, to see what are the new techniques for protecting a national collection,” the Executive Director informs.
“We are aware of our responsibility and we take that role very seriously and our approach is that, we can’t prevent disasters, but we can ensure that when they strike, we are able to cope and mitigate any losses. Preserving the national collection is something that occupies all of our minds here at the NLJ,” she adds.
For the future, the NLJ is seeking to locate and develop alternative locations for the storage of its collections.
“The other thing we need to consider is that old time proverb that you shouldn’t keep your eggs in one basket. The entire national collection is in one place at 12 East Street and as such, we are now trying to find other locations for the collection, to maybe separate out; let’s say the newspaper collection and the map collection in another place, so that all our eggs are not in one basket,” she says.
The NLJ offers one of the region’s most extensive collections of Jamaican and West Indian reference materials, including photographic, print and digitised images.
Recently it launched Jamaica’s first National Online Album titled, ‘Picture Dis: The National Online Album of Jamaica’, which can be accessed at www.nlj.org.jm or http://www.nlj.org.jm/pd/picturedis.htm.