Published: Feb. 14, 2024

Norlin Library’s collections escaped serious damage in the early morning fire on Friday, Feb. 9. Even so, library preservationists and fire remediators are working to return all collections to service as soon as possible. 

As soon as the fire was extinguished and they were cleared to enter the building, Conservator Hillary Morgan and Head of Preservation & Collection Care Section Megan Lambert got to work assessing the damage to the collection and planning the recovery.

“Fortunately there was minimal damage to the collection since the fire was put out quickly,” said Lambert. “Materials closest to the source of the fire had ash and soot which included reference, popular reading, periodicals and some display collections. From our initial assessment, very few, if any, materials will need to be replaced.”

The University Libraries are working with SERVPRO, a restoration service company, to clean up and mitigate most of the damage including removing soot off the surface of books using HEPA filtered vacuums and vulcanized rubber sponges that pick up particulates.

“Soot and smoke can be abrasive,” explained Morgan. “While mechanically cleaning materials, especially more fragile materials, we have to go slowly otherwise we can cause more damage and staining.” 

SERVPRO is working around the clock to clean library spaces and collections. Once they have finished, Preservation will review the insides of the books in the area and conduct spot checks to make sure there isn’t any extra cleaning that needs to be done. 

“We are hoping that air and surface cleaning will prevent any residual smoke smell on the books,” said Lambert. “Many of the materials in the vicinity have glossy coated paper and use library binding covers which are the most durable covers you can have in a library. They are easier to clean and less likely to have particulates ingrained in compared to cloth or leather.”

After the fire, the library was aired out to help dissipate the smoke smell and SERVPRO is using negative air machines which pull the air through filters to decrease all the particulates.

Additionally, a few paintings were affected with soot damage on the surface and behind the canvas. Because soot is acidic, the Libraries are working with Colorado Art Restoration Services (CARS) to test the paintings for damage and assess the need for cleaning.

A CU Boulder alum and former Libraries preservation student worker, Mak Morton, now works for CARS and is helping with the restoration. While a student majoring in Art History, Morton was a recipient of the Laughing Goat Scholarship and helped to restore a collection of historic glacier and ice maps so they are available to researchers. 

For the most current information on Norlin access and libraries services, visit the Libraries website.

Soot on library shelves

Negative air machines cleaning air near the Ask a Librarian Desk