Flooded library and recovery at Sundarayya Vignana Kendram
Hyderabad, India -- August 2000

Unusually heavy monsoon rains during the week of August 21 caused severe flooding in Hyderabad, the capital of the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh. The flood reached its zenith Thursday August 24th when a fifteen-foot wall of water inundated much of the city. Flooding ravaged the Sundarayya Vignana Kendram building which houses two major library collections. Within minutes both collections were completely submerged in water. (More information on the Sundarayya Vignana Kendram is available at: http://dsal.uchicago.edu/bibliographic/urlc/svkabout.html. Photographs from the scene are at: http://dsal.uchicago.edu/flood/thumbnail.html. Press clippings are at http://dsal.uchicago.edu/flood/press.html. A video on the disaster and recover efforts is at http://dsal.uchicago.edu/flood/video.html.) A pair of essays by Marshall Oliver describing the freeze-drying of the collections appeared in the March and April 2003 issues of Cleaning & Restoration. The text is at http://dsal.uchicago.edu/flood/cleaning-and-restoration.pdf.

One of the two collections held at Sundarayya Vignana Kendram is the American-owned Urdu Research Centre (URC) collection. The URC is an innovative collaboration between a consortium of distinguished American universities and an Indian organization, the Sundarayya Vignana Kendram, to provide better access to important literary and historical resources for scholars throughout the world. The U. S. partners, including the universities of California-Berkeley, Chicago, Michigan, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, Texas-Austin, Washington, Wisconsin, Columbia University, and Harvard University, purchased the collection from a private bibliophile. The library is maintained and preserved at the Sundarayya Vignana Kendram in Hyderabad in a new paradigm of collection development that provides for the equitable sharing of important resources by Indian and U. S. scholars. (More information about the URC is available at: http://dsal.uchicago.edu/bibliographic/urlc/urlcabout.html.)

The URC is widely considered one of the world's finest collections of Urdu periodicals and printed books. Most imprints date from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries and very few are available in any U.S. library. There are over 26,500 books in the collection. The 2,600 journals represent numerous disciplines and describe a century and a half of Indian life and scholarship. (More information about the collection is available at: http://dsal.uchicago.edu/bibliographic/urlc/urc.html.)

The main Research Library at the Sundarayya Vignana Kendram has a rich collection of rare books, journals, newspapers, reports, pamphlets, manuscripts, private papers, and other materials in different languages. The collection is particularly rich in Telugu and English language material throwing light on socio-cultural, economic and political histories, and popular movements of all types in central India from the 12th through 20th centuries.

First news of the flood reached the U.S. via e-mail on Thursday morning, August 24th. Participating universities and the conservation community immediately responded to the crisis with a series of communications to experts who contributed essential technical advice that was promptly made available on a Web site. Invaluable instruction on the immediate handling of the crisis came from the Preservation Office at the Library of Congress, the Northeast Document Conservation Center, the Weissman Preservation Center at Harvard University Library, the Preservation Department at Columbia University Libraries, and the Preservation Department at the University of Chicago Library. The Association for Research Libraries, the Center for Research Libraries, the Council of American Overseas Research Centers, and the Library of Congress New Delhi Field Office also assisted in a variety of ways.

Dr. Atlury Murali and Mr. C. Sambi Reddy of Sundarayya Vignana Kendram urgently marshaled resources to save the collections. The consensus of conservation experts was that the collections must be frozen to stabilize them and prevent the growth of mold. Through their dedication and hard work the advice of experts is being acted upon with expedition. Diesel pumps were brought in to pump out the water. Plastic crates were found in which to move the books. Freezer facilities were secured together with clean water needed to rinse the soiled materials before freezing. Most importantly, volunteers were organized to carry out these critical tasks. To this point, the effort to salvage the collection has been a model for crisis management.

Dr. Atlury Murali

Only five days after the flood, all of the materials from the collections held at Sundarayya Vignana Kendram were stored in freezers around the city of Hyderabad. Now that the situation is stabilized -- freezing the books, manuscripts and periodicals simply buys time -- a strategic plan for the continued treatment of salvaged items is being developed through the cooperative efforts of colleagues in the U. S. and India.

Contributions to save the collections in Hyderabad may be addressed to:

The Urdu Research Library Consortium
c/o The University of Chicago Library
Southern Asia Department
1100 East 57th Street
Chicago, IL 60637

Brochure developed by Sundarayya Vignana Kendram detailing the flood (in Telugu) available as 4 web images, or as a PDF document. (Please note, the PDF file is rather large and takes awhile to open.)

Marshall Oliver of Cromwell/INRECON, Document Restoration Specialists, traveled to India and prepared a project proposal for restoration. A copy of the consultant's report is available as a PDF

Action plans | Background information | Press clippings
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