Water is Bad for Books and Business: Part 2

By , April 19, 2010 11:27 am

by Jill Allyn
This is part 2 of a 2-part article that Jill wrote for our blog, recounting the GSB Flood of 2009. Read Part 1 here:

Aftermath: Litigation associates whose offices received serious water damage on floor 17 packed up their offices very quickly (every person was responsible for packing up his/her own office). In the chaos, wet library books were tossed out, and we had no record of which volumes these were. Other attorneys scooped up favorite titles from the library before they were moved to build personal collections that could be kept close at hand. The built-in shelving in the main library on floor 18 housed the Washington collection, and since it received no damage, was able to remain in place behind protective plastic sheeting. It was crazy to have some of the most used titles on 16 and some on 18, so on June 15th I asked the movers to return and move the Washington collection to floor 16. During this period there was only one elevator operational for all the businesses from floors 11 – 22, and much of the time it was being used for moving, demolition, and the like. Simply getting to floors 16 and 18 from floor 11 required a long wait. The firm opened a special client/matter for flood-related activities, and we documented all costs, including labor costs, there.

The main library space is large when it is empty, and firm leaders began eyeing the space during the summer as a future conference room. One request I fielded the first week after the flood was to plan for moving the existing library to a closet-sized war room. Fortunately, one of the litigators took saving the library space as a personal challenge, even calling a meeting with firm decision-makers to talk about the down-sizing plan. In the end, the firm agreed that better management of existing meeting rooms was a worthy goal, and the library was able to move back to its space in September.

Our summer associates had an unusual experience with the firm – they were able to do much of their research using Westlaw with impunity. Normally, we train our summer clerks on library research techniques using our print collection in conjunction with our e-libraries, but not this summer.

We are still struggling to catch up on 5 months of delayed library maintenance. Fred Hanson’s wife spent two solid weeks updating the Tax Management Portfolios once we were back in place. An office services volunteer worked for about three weeks as she was available, dating and property stamping replacement volumes of used ALRs and other sets. Besides catching up on filing, we still need to finish moving the collection on 17 and 16 in the pocket libraries. When we finish, we will have moved every volume in the GSB library on all three floors. Because we don’t know exactly which books were tossed in the initial “flight” packing up, we now suspect that we must match each card in our check-out box to actual volumes to identify any volumes still missing.

Publishers’ responses to our predicament varied. One major publisher was not willing to sell us deeply discounted replacements, while others were much more able to work with us, and genuinely tried to help with additional free electronic content for a short period. The remainder of Heller Ehrman’s collection included some useful titles; we were able to break sets and fill in gaps for which we would not have purchased replacements. (Many thanks to Beth Morey and Jan Lawrence for these books).

Vicki’s early spreadsheets have proven invaluable. Not only did we gauge replacement priority using them, but as they evolved we were able to base our insurance claims from them.

She listed every volume that we threw away, and later would attach a replacement value to it. I then ranked the damaged volumes A, B or C, with A = highly desirable to replace and C = replacement unlikely. She ordered the A items the next week from Law Book Exchange and West. The photos that she took of every shelf in the library have been very useful for replacement planning, physical lay-out and evaluation of the collection’s classification.

Management Lessons: I now understand that a disaster and its aftermath create moving targets for the facilities and office managers. Our recovery scenarios changed hour-by-hour in the first two days. A good manager knows where the firm’s efforts must be made for business continuity, and assists as needed. You will be asked to do tasks not in your job description, think on your feet, and be flexible beyond your imaginings. The CEO and the COO knew enough to stay out of the way and trust the managers to make most of the necessary decisions, and this wise path contributed to our ability to go back to work very quickly. While ours was a small disaster in the scale of human events, the ramifications significantly impacted the business. The event and its effects could have been much, much worse.

One Response to “Water is Bad for Books and Business: Part 2”

  1. Jan Lawrence says:

    Great article — got to “be there” without being there! I really empathized re the empty library space and everyone making other plans for the space.

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