Rebuilding the ANU Library collection after the 2018 flood

5 August 2019

The University's librarians have been busily unfreezing works damaged in last year's floods as part of broader remediation and preserving of ancient, rare texts.

The remediation works are part of a project to restore the collection following the flood of 25 February 2018, which left the lower level of the J.B. Chifley Library underwater, resulting in the loss of over 100,000 monographs. The flood also damaged decades of information collected between library staff and ANU academics.

Since the flood, intense work has been underway to rebuild the ANU Library collection with more than 9,100 titles lost in the flood becoming available again through the ANU Library. This has been the result of purchasing many titles, as well as through a number of generous donations.

"The ANU community has been instrumental in rebuilding our collection. Donations have come from not just Australia, but around the world," says University Librarian Roxanne Missingham.

"We are extremely grateful to those who have donated books. We have been working closely with a number of areas across the University who have made offers to replace flood items from libraries belonging to schools, disciplines and individuals."

The ANU Library has also made frequent trips to booksellers across Canberra to locate replacement titles - in particular, to replace the humanities, history and politics collections that were disproportionally impacted by the flood.

ANU Archives staff are currently in the process of unfreezing a number of books which were impacted by the flood. Many of these items are not held anywhere else in the world, or cannot be easily replaced.

As such, they were placed into specialised freezers in the ANU Archives, to preserve them while decisions were made about their long-term storage.

The first batch is now unfrozen, and these will be digitised as well as stored safely.

"While we are thrilled to be replacing the materials from our collection, it does raise an important question.... where do we put things?" says Roxanne.

One implication of the flood is that the ANU Library is no longer able to store materials on Level 1 of the Chifley Library, or in the basement of the W.K. Hancock Library. As such, a major project is being undertaken to relocate collection materials from all ANU Library branches to make space for replacement titles.

"We are also undergoing a process of evaluating options for collection storage," says Roxanne.

"Currently our materials are stored across many locations - our repository in Hume, all five branches, basements, car parks and other miscellaneous places. This has left our collections vulnerable to a variety of impacts. For example - in February this year, mere days from the one-year anniversary of the Chifley flood, we had additional storm damage to both the Chifley and Menzies Library branches, as well as the ANU Archives.

"There would be many academic benefits to our students and researchers having our collection housed in one location, in addition to the benefits of having materials stored in a safer, up-to-date facility. We are grateful that the University is assisting in assessing options for storage."

These incidents have also provided the ANU Library an opportunity to rethink how library spaces can best meet student needs.

"As a world class university, we need a world class library and this includes modern and adequate student facilities. The number one issue reported by students in our surveys is that the physical library spaces are not up to scratch. We have not added additional seating in almost 20 years, which does not match the increase in student numbers and use of the libraries," says Roxanne.

"We have taken this feedback on board, and have been able to advocate for student needs in the redevelopment of Chifley Level 1."

Renovations will open up Level 1 as a student commons area, including more than 200 new student seating spaces. These new study spaces will have individual, group study areas and new amenities. It is anticipated that these works will be completed by October.

As part of this broader renovations project a new entrance to the Chifley Library has opened, providing greater access to and from the Kambri Precinct. As a result, the information desk, returns, self-check machines and AskANU IT Desk have been moved to accommodate the new entryway.

"I am deeply appreciative to everyone who has worked so hard behind the scenes on the donations, insurance process, relocations and preservation work. We have done this within existing resources and are planning for more resources for the next stage, so I am incredibly grateful to everyone for their dedication," says Roxanne.

"We would also like to thank the staff, students and broader ANU Community who have rallied behind us during this time. We will continue to work hard to not only rebuild the ANU Library collections, but to improve them."

If you are interested in donating material a list of Monographs lost in the flood contains the titles lost and those already replaced. If you would like to donate please contact Meredith Duncan, Branch Manager, J.B. Chifley Library.