Salvage of Water Damaged Library Materials - part 9


When a flood or fire-damaged collection is covered by insurance, full settlement of a claim cannot be realized until the lost and damaged materials have been listed and their values established. The extent and success of possible restoration must also be determined. In the event that a claim is anticipated as a result of such damage, every item should be salvaged, frozen, and dried. After drying, the affected materials should be shelved in a specially equipped environmental storage area, isolated from the main stacks, and there inspected and monitored over a period of time. Such a policy is the best guarantee of sound judgments by custodians, consultants, and adjusters when they must calculate the degree of loss as a basis for compensation.


Seek the advice and help of book and paper conservators with experience in salvaging water-damaged materials as soon as possible.

Turn off heat and create free circulation of air.

Keep fans and air-conditioning on day and night and use dehumidifiers and insure a constant flow of air is necessary to reduce the threat of mold.

Brief each worker carefully before salvage operations begin, giving full information on the dangers of proceeding except as directed. Emphasize the seriousness of timing and the priorities and aims of the whole operation. Instruct workers on means of recognizing manuscripts, materials with water-soluble components, leather and vellum bindings, materials printed on coated paper stock, and photographic materials.

Do not allow workers to attempt restoration of any items on site. This was a common error in the first 10 days after the Florence flood, when rare and valuable leather and vellum-bound volumes were subjected to scrubbing and processing to remove mud. This resulted in driving mud into the interstices of leather, vellum, cloth, and paper, caused extensive damage to the volumes, and made the later work of restoration more difficult, time consuming, and extremely costly.)

Carry out all cleaning operations, whether outside the building or in controlled environment rooms, by washing gently with fresh, cold running water and soft cellulose sponges to aid in the release of mud and filth. Use sponges in a dabbing motion; do not rub. These instructions do not apply to materials with water-soluble components. Such materials should be frozen as quickly as possible.

Do not attempt to open a wet book. (Wet paper is very weak and will tear at a touch. One tear costs at least one dollar to mend!) Hold a book firmly closed when cleaned, especially when washing or sponging. A closed book is highly resistant to impregnation and damage.

Do not attempt to remove mud by sponging. Mud is best removed from clothes when dry; this is also true of library materials.

Do not remove covers from books, as they will help to support the books during drying. When partially dry, books may be hung over nylon lines to finish drying. Do not hang books from lines while they are very wet because the weight will cause damage to the inside folds of the sections.

Do not press books and documents when they are water soaked. This can force mud into the paper and subject the materials to stresses which will damage their structures.

Use soft pencils for making notes on slips of paper but do not attempt to write on wet paper or other artifacts.

Clean, white blotter paper, white paper towels, strong toilet paper, and unprinted newsprint may be used for interleaving in the drying process. When nothing better is available, all but the color sections of printed newspapers may be used. Care must be taken to avoid rubbing the inked surface of the newspaper over the material being dried; otherwise some offsetting of the ink may occur.

Under no circumstances should newly dried materials be packed in boxes and left without attention for more than a few days.

Do not use bleaches, detergents, water-soluble fungicides, wire staples, paper or bulldog clips, adhesive tape, or adhesives of any kind. Never use felt-tipped fiber or ballpoint pens or any marking device on wet paper.

Never use colored blotting paper or colored paper of any kind to dry books and other documents.

Used and damp interleaving sheets should not be reused.

Frequent changing of interleaving material is much more effective than allowing large numbers of sheets to remain in place for extended periods.

Newsprint should not be left in books after drying is complete.

A good grade of paper toweling is more effective than newsprint, but the cost is much greater.

This publication was produced as a public service. It may be reproduced and distributed freely in part or in its entirety. When duplicating individual articles please copy them exactly as they appear so that proper credit will be given to the originating institution.

The editors of this publication will be collaborating on additional projects. If there are issues which you would like to see addressed in the future please send your ideas to:

Preservation Programs
National Archives at College Park
8601 Adelphi Road
College Park, MD 20740-6001

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