We were recently shown a photograph from the famous (in library circles) freak flood in the basement of the University of Hawaii’s Main Library in October, 2004. As a reminder, a “freak flood” hit a flotsam-formed dam at a culvert in a creek over a mile from the campus. The surging waters overflowed their banks, wended their way through the streets of a residential area, managed to find the library, and destroyed the library’s maps and government document collections.

Of course, being on the scene, we here at LLMC-Kaneohe had seen pictures of the flood before. But a lightbulb went off when we saw this one. The principal ruined set sitting on the shelves in the middle of this photo is the U.S. Statutes at Large. Those water-expanded volumes in the first five levels of shelves show just how high the flood reached. But the thing that struck us was that this is the very set that was scanned by LLMC to earlier that year. We certainly didn’t imagine when we were doing that scanning that this fine set of materials had less than a year’s life left in it.

Of course, this was a “freak flood,” a “once-in-a-lifetime accident.” But “freak” events happen with some regularity in our world, and “once-in-a-lifetime events” seem to happen at least once in every lifetime. Although most destructive events are less dramatic than this one, the preservation message is clear. Our paper collections are in peril from threats overt and subtle; swift or merely inexorable. Only a program of methodical and persistent preservation will ensure that we will fulfill our duty of passing our heritage on to our children.