Archivy etc.

opinions, occasional rants, and sometimes things that have nothing to do with archives at all. Nothing here should be assumed to be reflective of my employer's opinion(s) nor should it be assumed that at anytime afterward, this is what I still think.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Baby, it's cold in there

Okay, after that last one I need to prove I don't always just rant.

Sometimes I rave.

Oh, I guess I proved that with the last one too. But it's time to inject a few notes of levity into this, and so I'm going to tell you a story. It's my story. I haven't yet got any responses to my call for "dumbest thing you ever did in the vault" so I'll share mine, in hopes that it will prompt some responses. It's a classic story--as far as being about as representative of me as I can possibly get. Hopefully you'll find it amusing, and not too pathetic.

One summer a few years back I had some work travel (Archives Leadership Institute and the SAA annual meeting) nearly back to back: one week in between. One very heavy workweek in between.

By the Friday of that workweek, I was wiped. Completely exhausted. For whatever reason I was getting out of work a little late that night, made it to the foot of the stairs on the main floor, was within eyeshot of the door, and one of the Circ staff came running up and grabbed me by the arm. "Flood on 2nd floor" was the gist of what she said to me.

I think I can be forgiven for thinking it, and I think I should probably get a few brownie points for not saying it, but in lightning speed the thought crossed my mind: "that's not my stuff, why don't the librarians take care of it?" I think I should get even more points because I promptly turned around and marched back up the stairs to where all the CircLings (circ student workers) were rapidly pulling books off shelves as this rather nasty brownish water cascaded out of the ceiling over them. I touched one book, came away with a greasy coating, and realized, great, glycol leak. So I grabbed the next clean CircLing headed my way and detoured him to help me fetch some of the garbage cans and the lab coats we keep in our preservation lab, along with a box of nitrile gloves, and as much plastic sheeting and as many garbage bags as I could lay my hands on.

Long story short (because a longer one is yet to come), 3 hours later we had all the books triaged (several hundred of them) and the ones that looked like they could be rescued were air drying in one of the meeting rooms. The students had all crept away, exhausted, filthy, to go home and take showers, and the only two people left in the building were the building manager and me. She wandered off downstairs to get something out of her office and I limped back into the Archives to see what I needed to grab to go home. It was time to close up the building for the weekend.

Which is when the rather dim lightbulb in my brain went off. Was it possible that the leak had started higher up? Say on the third floor? i.e. the floor with the Archives? So I decided I needed to do a quick inspection. Since our floors aren't laid out exactly the same way, it took me a while to figure out the general area of the leak (I'll tell you now there wasn't one on the 3rd). In that process I went into the refrigerated vault of the non-profit film archives with whom we share space.

It felt kind of nice in the film vault. Nice and cool. I made sure I couldn't see any leaks and turned around and realized that the door had shut behind me.

Did I mention that I was really, really tired?

Full on panic attack. I've just locked myself into a fully enclosed and insulated vault sitting at about 35 degrees Fahrenheit, on a Friday night of a weekend when the library was closed, when I knew the film archivists weren't going to be in the office til Tuesday, and the building manager doesn't know where I am nor would she necessarily have a need to come looking for me. My cell phone is sitting on a table in the meeting room with the books.

Really, really tired? I said that, right? Broke two nails off twisting the door thing (at the time I couldn't grace it with the term handle, because it isn't) and caused a few bruises as well.

Apparently my brain has a high speed panic function. Because as I was looking at my nearly bleeding fingertips, I thought about hypothermia. Been there, done that, don't want to go back. The delusions aren't all that fun. So I thought: wait, the thermostat is right there, and if I turn up the thermostat, as soon as the room hits 60, it sets off an alarm which tells the university police to call the facilities type to come over and fix the refrigeration unit. I've had more than a few 3:00 am calls from the university police dispatcher about this very thing. It takes a while for the facilities types to show up, but at least I won't be freezing to death in the meantime. So I cranked both thermostats. Set them up to 80 to make sure the 60 was reached asap. Pretty bright thinking, huh? We always tell everybody in preservation and disaster recovery classes that people are more important than things. Save the people first. This was my chance to live what I'd preached.

And maybe 10 seconds after that, the crush of relief that I'd come upon a solution to my rather disastrous dilemma cleared the fog of exhaustion. Just enough for reality to creep back in. I was staring at the door and I realized: there's no way to lock myself in here. I reached back over to the thermostats, turned them way back down, and pushed open the door and walked out. I collected my purse and cell phone, walked downstairs, waved at the building manager, and walked out to my car and drove home.

But here's the thing my panicked brain didn't do: I hadn't made note of the exact temp at which the thermostats had been set originally. I knew I got it in the vicinity--within a variance of 5 degrees, max--but my film archivist colleague might notice that something was not as usual. So the following Tuesday, instead of pretending this whole thing hadn't happened, I found myself in his office explaining why he needed to go check the settings.

He listened, calmly. And the only comment he had at the time (though he had a few more later, about my willingness to sacrifice their holdings) was the quiet observation that it was very interesting how my brain worked: that I'd come up with a totally McGyver answer. To what was, in fact, a complete and total non-emergency.

So there you go. I still think we should put little "PUSH" signs on the vault side of that door, but really, what are the chances that this might happen again? It seems to be the general consensus that this really could only have happened to me. I suspect that's true, sadly.

Back in high school, my older brother gave me a Far Side mug--you know, the old "Midvale School for the Gifted" one with the kid pushing on a door with a pull sign. He wasn't being prescient in any fashion, this has always been my family's view of my level of personal coordination. I still have the mug these many years later. But now, finally, I have the actual story to go with it.

So now that I've come clean, let me hear yours. I'll post them. I'll even take your name off them, if you like.

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