Salvage of Water Damaged Library Materials - part 7


The size and formation of ice crystals is governed by the rate and temperature of freezing. Blast freezing used for certain types of food-stuffs is designed to quickly freeze in a few hours, often involving temperatures in excess of -50 degrees Celsius. The advantage of quick freezing is that ice crystals are kept very small, resulting in a limited amount of swelling. Availability of blast freezing facilities may not be possible following water damage, so in normal circumstances, freezing will be slower and therefore the formation of ice crystals larger, but this should not cause problems for the majority of library and archive collections.

Once frozen, cold temperature conditions should be maintained at about 0o Fahrenheit (-18o Celsius). Lower temperatures will do no harm but higher temperatures may increase the size of ice crystals.


Before freezing, it may seem tempting to wash away accumulated debris particularly if this is the result of a river flood, but this is rarely advisable or safe because of lack of time, skilled workers and a pure water supply, and the quantity of material to be handled. (Aqueous washing to remove smoke damage should never be attempted under any circumstances).

Washing should never be attempted by untrained persons as this will cause further damage, nor should time be taken for this purpose if so little skilled help is available that any significant delay in freezing the bulk of the materials would result. The washing of materials containing water-soluble components, such as inks, watercolors, tempera or dyes should not be attempted under any circumstances.

Experience has shown that such materials, as well as those that are fragile or delicate, can be seriously or irreparably damaged by untrained workers attempting to clean and restore on-site. Such materials need expert attention and hours of careful work if damage is to be kept to a minimum. The period of emergency action and þfirst aidþ is a dangerous and unsuitable time for the careful work required to restore materials to near-original state. The general condition of the damaged material will determine how much time can be spent in preparation for freezing. At the very least, bound volumes should be wrapped with a single fold of freezer paper, or silicone paper, if it is likely that their covers will stick together during the freezing process.

All rare, intrinsically valuable and delicate material should be prepared for freezing separately from other materials and also in separate categories so that each can be located and identified before they are dried. Each category may require a different type of drying than used for the other less sensitive materials. For instance, early printed books and manuscripts are made up of a variety of material including vellum, leather, paper, wood metal, ivory, inks and water color media. Others will be delicate and or highly water sensitive. These will need to be dried very carefully and if freeze-drying is used it should be undertaken with the minimum amount of internal chamber heating. If only a few items are involved it may be preferable to send them directly to a certified conservator for immediate treatment.


The choice of packing containers should be carefully considered. Although corrugated board boxes are cheaper to purchase, locate and store on site than plastic type milk crates, they may restrict the rate and efficiency of drying and also be prone to collapse when filled with wet material. If it is possible to decide in advance what method of drying is to be used, be guided by the technical requirements of the vendorþs drying system. For instance, if freeze-drying is to be used, one cubic foot plastic milk crates might be preferred, since these provide open spaces within the interlocking crates to aid in the efficient out-gassing of ice by sublimation.

With some forms of vacuum drying where sublimation does not occur, corrugated boxes may be quite suitable, depending on the location of the heat source in the chamber. In either case, containers should not be larger than approximately one cubic foot, to avoid excessive weight, a vital consideration for workers removing material from site and also to help reduce damage from collapsing boxes. Usually boxes will be prepared for freezing on pallets and this is where the weight of heavy wet boxes can collapse and cause additional damage to material within the pile. To avoid this, use plastic milk crates or very sturdy corrugated boxes for the wettest material and re-box file records if their original boxes are saturated with water. Endeavor to use one size and type of box. If this not possible, do not mix sizes when packing on pallets. The number of boxes per pallet should be no more than can be supported without collapse.

Although faster freezing and drying will result if boxes are not packed tightly, the contents will distort during the drying operation. To achieve the best drying results for books, they should be packed closely together so that drying is done under some restraining pressure. A book should never be packed foredge down as the weight of the text block will cause an inversion of its natural round shape. Pack books spine-down or flat and avoid placing larger volumes on top of smaller ones to avoid sagging which will be costly to correct during restoration.

The decisions taken at this stage will greatly affect the outcome and costs of the processes used for cold storage, drying and restoration. It has, unfortunately, not been sufficiently appreciated in the past that care in packing at this stage will significantly reduce post-recovery costs.

High costs certainly occur if boxes are stacked on pallets in mixed sizes which will increase the potential for collapse under the weight of water, crushing and damaging the material in the process.

It should be possible to move the wet materials directly from library to freezing facility, preferably in refrigerated trucks which can be drawn up to the loading site. For small collections of books and documents, dry ice may be used to freeze the material for transport in un-refrigerated trucks to long-term freezing facilities. (Gloves should be worn at all times when handling dry ice).

Disaster Preparedness Table of Contents