May 16, 2022

Recovering from a Major Library Disaster at the University of Wisconsin-Superior

From the U. of Wisconsin-Superior:

The UW-Superior community and a disaster recovery company are working hard to save thousands of volumes from Jim Dan Hill Library that were damaged in the massive flooding that struck the Twin Ports of Superior, Wis., and Duluth, MN June 19-20.

The company, BMS Cat, is managing the campuswide recovery, which involves 16 buildings. Its unique library recovery process freezes water-damaged books as a first step. The books are later freeze-dried in pressurized chambers at a facility in Fort Worth, TX. The technique removes the frozen water from the books by converting it to vapor without passing through the liquid stage.

Although most of the university’s collection of more than 200,000 volumes was damaged, university and company officials hope that many books and periodicals can be saved. The team effort includes UW-Superior staff, company employees students hired by the company and other temporary workers.


Overseeing the painstaking inventory work was Deb Nordgren, campus library director. “You know how people love books, especially academic people. It’s pretty heartbreaking for them,” Nordgren said.

BMS Cat has already sent a sample pallet of frozen books to its freeze-drying facilities in Texas. Once that sample has been dried and examined, university officials will decide on how to handle the remaining seven semi trailer loads of frozen, potentially salvageable books. Results are expected back in late July.

“We have had good luck with books, but you never know exactly how they’re going to react until you see the sample,” said Craig Martin, regional director for BMS Cat and the site supervisor.

The workers wash dirt from books, pack them tightly in boxes, stack them on pallets and freeze them in semi trailer freezer units. Packing the books tightly and keeping them wet keeps them from warping and expanding. Freezing them stops any microbial growth and puts them in a state of suspended animation, said Colin Young, BMS Cat’s project manager. “It’s like freezing them in time.”

Read the Complete Report

About Gary Price

Gary Price ( is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington D.C. metro area. Before launching INFOdocket, Price and Shirl Kennedy were the founders and senior editors at ResourceShelf and DocuTicker for 10 years. From 2006-2009 he was Director of Online Information Services at, and is currently a contributing editor at Search Engine Land.