Tuesday, January 4, 2011


BACK IN MY NEWSPAPER DAYS, the word triage applied to too much news, too many possibilities, too few resources and thus some painful decision making. What we "went after" had mostly to do with who was working that particular night and how much newsprint we had to work with.

I thought about that well-worn battlefield term this week as I returned to a freezing Coe Library and the part of the 1st Floor given over to storing the damp victims of the Dec. 20 flood. Which will survive, and which will end up in the Dumpster?

The French World War I doctors who coined the term knew from agonizing decision making. Sorting through wet, ruined and occasionally moldy books, and deciding how to spend meager restoration resources, is mostly art -- and if there's science involved we'll need to call someone more expert than I.

One of the resource we don't have is time. The students are back in a few days, and one of their favorite study areas, the Porch, is currently doing duty as a glum little book and paper hospital, although it's at least a bright and sunny one.

I'm starting with the easy triage, the wet unprocessed folders of would-be archives. For a Lone Arranger, their marginal value isn't equal to the effort of drying them out and putting them in fresh, expensive, acid-free folders. Not compared to everything else that needs to be evaluated. Into the Dumpster they go.

I cheerfully admit that sorting through the backfiles from a discontinued 1980s project delays the inevitable, difficult confrontation with the rare books. We'll let the patients dry out for a few more days and see if they don't improve a little on their own.