Magazine article American Libraries

Inspection Scorches Fire Safety at LC

Magazine article American Libraries

Inspection Scorches Fire Safety at LC

Article excerpt

Following a yearlong inspection at the Library of Congress, the congressional Office of Compliance has cited dangerous fire conditions posing threats to visitors, employees, and some of the most valuable items in the collection. Its January 25 report reveals a major lack of fire safeguards at the largest library in the world.

Potentially explosive cylinders, out-dated Halon-gas fire extinguishers, 35-year-old untested smoke alarms, and a lack of sprinklers and alarms have endangered lives at LC, which draws two million visitors annually, the report indicates. The well-trafficked, 103-year-old, domed Jefferson building--which reopened in 1997 after a decade-long restoration (AL, June/July 1997, p. 12)--is seriously underprotected. Also in jeopardy, the report contends, are such treasures as a perfect copy of the Gutenberg Bible, the largest rare book collection in North America, and a collection of Stradivarius violins.

"Until 1997 all the congressional buildings on Capitol Hill were exempt," LC spokesperson Jill Brett told American Libraries, explaining how the library could have circumvented safety measures that are standard for most institutions. Even a 12-year rehabilitation of LC completed in 1997 did not address many fire hazards, "because of concerns about the impact on the historic structure," said library safety officer Bob Browne, in a January 30 Associated Press report.

"Architects had some concern for fire safety but they were not following the law because they didn't have to," Gary Green, general counsel for the Office of Compliance, told AL. His office's LC report follows prior life-safety inspections of the U.S. Capitol, Senate, and House of Representatives buildings--all spurred by the Congressional Accountability Act of 1995.

"We welcome the report because we're very concerned about it," said Brett, who added that LC safety workers cooperated with the Office of Compliance during its nearly 12-month inspection. …

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