The Library of Congress > Wise Guide > June 2010 > It’s Getting Hot in Here
It’s Getting Hot in Here

In April, a volcano under a glacier in Iceland erupted, melting ice, spewing smoke and steam, and spreading ash. Hundreds were evacuated, and travel all across Europe was impacted.

Volcanoes National Park, Hawaii. 2005. Prints and Photographs Division. Reproduction Information: Reproduction No.: LC-DIG-highsm-04489 (original digital file); Call No.: LC-DIG-highsm- 04489 (ONLINE) [P&P] Chain of Craters Road, Volcano vicinity, Hawaii County, Hawaii. 1968. Prints and Photographs Division. Reproduction Information: Call No.: HAER HI-49

The Library’s Preservation Directorate has put together some information on how to protect and salvage your collection in the event of a volcanic eruption. While you might raise an eyebrow as to the likelihood of such an occurrence, in the United States, volcanoes exist in Alaska, American Samoa, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Mississippi, Missouri, Nevada, New Mexico, Northern Mariana Islands, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, Washington and Wyoming. And, eruptions occur between 50-70 times a year.

Volcanic eruptions can also put books, photos and collections at risk of loss as a result of violent explosions, soiling from ash, and/or burning from cinders. Ash and debris from eruptions and fire can also damage buildings, filtration systems, fans, ducts, electrical systems and other infrastructure that houses and protects such collections. Structural damage can expose collections to other agents of deterioration.

Although the most obvious threats from volcanoes are lava and ash, volcanoes can emit potentially lethal acidic gases that can spread up to 100 miles.  Volcanoes also can cause mudslides and flash floods that cover hundreds of square miles.  Volcanoes can set off tidal waves, earthquakes, rock falls, and explosive lateral blasts that may shoot hot rocks for up to 20 miles.

The biggest single volcanic risk to most repositories is of being affected by acidic and corrosive ash, which can spread over 1,000 miles from a volcano coating collections and facilities with a fine and corrosive layer of abrasive ash.

Included in the Preservation resource are tips on salvage, evacuation and prevention, as well as a list of items most vulnerable to damage.

Searching for “volcano” in the Library’s Prints and Photographs Online Catalog pulls up hundreds of images. Searching for the word in the Library’s American Memory collections also pulls a variety of resources from such presentations as American Environmental Photographs, Built in America, and History of the American West.