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Salvage Procedures for Water-Damaged Materials

Assess the damage

  • How much damage has occurred?
  • What kind of damage is it (fire, smoke, soot, clean, water, dirty water, heat, humidity)? Ninety-five percent of all disasters will result in water-damaged materials. Keep in mind that molds will develop within 48-72 hours in a warm, humid environment. You must work quickly to salvage damaged materials and to prevent additional damage from occurring.
  • Is it confined to one area or is the entire building damaged?
  • How much of the collection has been affected?
  • What types of materials have been damaged (books, documents, microforms, photographs, computer types)?
  • Are the damaged items easily replaced or are they irreplaceable?
  • Can the in-house recovery team salvage them, or will outside help be required?

Walk through the entire area and take extensive notes with a pencil (ink will run) Photographs should be taken to document the damages.

Set up work station(s)

Recheck recovery priorities and access routes to the locations of the high priority items.

Stabilize the environment

The environment must be stabilized to prevent the growth of mold. Ideal conditions for a recovery operation are 65 degrees F and 50% RH. Facilities Management will have equipment to help stabilize the Environment, i.e., portable generators (in case a power failure occurs), pumps (to remove large quantities of standing water), fan (to circulate the air).

Remove damaged items.

Carefully move damaged materials to a work area, which also has low temperature, low humidity and good air circulation. Disaster and recovery areas should be inaccessible to the public.

A number of options are available for treating water-damaged materials. The choice of treatment will depend upon the extent and type of damage incurred, and the manpower, expertise, and facilities available. It is important to remember that no drying method restores materials. They will never be in better condition than the one they are in when drying begins. If time must be taken to make critical decisions, books and records should be frozen to reduce physical distortion and biological contamination. Paper will dry into a solid block if allowed to dry on its own.

Air Drying

Air-drying is the oldest and most common method of dealing with wet books and records. It can be employed for one item or many, but is most suitable for small numbers of damp or slightly wet books and documents. Because it requires no special equipment. It is often seen as an inexpensive method of drying. Items with dirt and mud, washing is necessary:

  • Keep book tightly closed and hold it under cool, clean, running water.
  • Remove as much mud as possible from the binding by dabbing gently with a sponge. Do not rub or use brushes and do not sponge the pages or edges, as these actions can force the mud into the spine or the wet pages. Let the motion of the running water clean off the dirt.
  • Squeeze the book gently and with even pressure to remove excess water and to reshape the binding.

Do not wash...

  • open or swollen volumes
  • vellum or parchment bindings or pages
  • full or partial leather bindings
  • fragile or brittle materials
  • works of art on paper
  • manuscripts

Saturated volumes:

  • Do not open - wet paper tears easily!
  • Set volumes on their heads on absorbent paper. Pages tend to droop within the binding when a volume is shelved upright, so setting it on its head will counteract this tendency. Plastic sheeting would be placed under the paper toweling or unprinted newsprint to protect tabletops.
  • Turn the volumes right side up when changing the paper beneath them. Their position should be reversed each time the paper is changed and the wet paper removed from the area.
  • Covers may be opened to support the volume.
  • When most of the water has drained, proceed for "Damp volumes"

Damp volumes

  • Interleave damp pages
  • Insert sheets of paper toweling between every 10-15 pages to absorb water.
  • Replace sheets when wet-every 2-4 hours and turn upside down.
  • Remove when paper near spine is dry.
  • Temperature should be below 65 degrees F. rH should be 30%-50% minimum.
  • Use fans to circulate air.
  • For minor disasters (-100) alternate between interleaving, fanning and pressing. Damp books may not be pressed for longer than an hour at a time due to lack of air circulation causing mold growth. However the pressing flattens the cockled paper. This is very labor intensive: interleave with paper towels and fan standing on ends supported with bookends until paper towels absorb some of the moisture. Remove interleaving and place in book press for one hour.
  • Remove and interleave with dry paper towels. Fan. Remove interleaving. Press. Dry interleaving. Fan...until pages of books are dry especially near spine margin.

If you cannot attend to clay coated books immediately: keep wet with cold, clean water to prevent the pages from sticking together. Interleave or freeze ASAP. There are no guarantees that coated paper will not stick together no matter how it is dried. Freeze drying is rarely successful for clay coated paper. The only chance of saving such materials is to interleave every page and air-dry.

Loose wet papers:

The best method to treat wet papers is to photocopy all vital records and essential files. Dry flat. Paper will curl and wrinkle when drying.

Leather, vellum - air-dry only! Cannot be frozen.

Photographic materials:

Air dry as quickly as possible. Separate photographs from their enclosures, frames, and from each other. If they are stuck together or adhered to glass, set them aside for freezing and consultation with a conservator.* Allow any excess water to drain off the photographs. Spread the photographs out to dry, face up, laying them flat on an absorbent material such as blotters (large white, pulpy sheets kept in wooden cabinet in Preservation Unit), unprinted newsprint, paper towels, or a clean cloth. Photographs may curl during drying. They can be flattened later.

Call a qualified conservator: Mr. Andrew Robb
On-call contractor with the JMU Library. (see contact list)

Instructions for other types of materials

Slides and negatives - air dry, hang on a line. Kodak and Fuji will reprocess water-damaged film and negatives, and will answer questions.

Kodak: 716-724 4000
Fuji: 800-877 0555

Video & Audio Tape

Replace. Water is especially damaging to magnetic materials. If irreplaceable or master cassettes they should go to a restoration facility to be dried, cleaned and copied.

Video & Audio Tape Decontamination-Restoration-Fire & Flood
Recovery-Consulting: Specs. Bro. LLC
POB 5 1 Mt. Vernon St.
Ridgefield Park, NJ 07660
201-440 6589
800-852 7732

Optical Disks - wash in distilled water obtained from the JMU Chemistry Lab.

Computer disks - Call on outside resources for recovery. BMS
Catastrophe Inc (BMS CAT)
303 Arthur Street
Fort Worth, TX 76107
817-332 2770
800-433 2940

Microforms & Fiche

Keep fiche in cold, clean water while handling. Dry microfiche by hanging it on monofilament using plastic clothespins. Fiche dries very quickly.


Keep wet (not longer than 72 hours or microfilm will deteriorate) in plastic container or bag. Send to Kodak for reprocessing.

Eastman Kodak
343 State Street
Rochester, NY 14608
716-724 4000

Vacuum Freese Drying

Vacuum freeze drying is the safest and most successful method, although it is also the most expensive. Materials must be frozen when they are placed in a sublimation chamber. This type of chamber operates under high vacuum and high heat, and turns the ice crystals in and on the frozen materials to water vapor. The vapor is then collected on a cold panel that has been chilled to at least -200 degrees F, so it cannot go back on the materials. If they are not frozen when they are put in the chamber, the materials will freeze on the outside and water molecules on the inside will be forced through the frozen barrier as the vacuum is pulled. This action can cause the book or document to "explode."

When materials are removed from the vacuum freeze chamber, they will be very dry and should acclimate for at least one month before they are opened to avoid cracking the spine and/or binding. They may be placed in a high humidity room to accelerate the acclimation process, but must be monitored closely for signs of mold.

The following commercial vendor is geographically closest and can be contacted to provide this service.

Munters Moisture Control Services
5190 West Military Hwy, Suite J
Chesapeake, VA 23321
Phone 757-627 3322

For other companies and services see:

Lewis, Steven. Disaster Recovery Yellow Pages.8th ed.Newton, MA: The Systems Audit Group, Inc.,1999. In Carrier Library Ref. HV 555 .U6 L48 1999

To prepare books for freeze drying, team assignments may include the following:

Packing Out:

  • Remove volumes from shelves in order
  • Wrap freezer paper or polyester webbing around each volume and place in plastic crates or boxes...spine down or standing up (NEVER pack on fore edge)
  • Pack items in the condition in which they are found. Do not attempt to close open volumes or open closed volumes that are wet.
  • Single rows; pack smaller on top of larger items; flat only if necessary NEVER try to save space
  • Label each box for shipment with the name of this library and assign it a number
  • On a separate sheet of paper, record the box number, call numbers of the first and last volumes packed, and the total number of books in each container. If they are not in call number order, not the location where found. Keep record of discarded items.
  • Materials should be placed in refrigerated trucks if they cannot be frozen with in 48 hrs.

Thoroughly soaked books and books with coated paper should be frozen as soon as possible. Wrap them loosely in freezer paper or wax paper and pack them flat in boxes, preferable plastic milk crates, for transport to a freezing facility. If they cannot be frozen before they dry, interleave each page with unprinted newsprint or paper towels and then air dry.

Cleaning Mold and Soot from Books

  • Take books outside on a sunny day when the humidity is low.
  • Wear facemasks to breathe through.
  • Hold book shut at fore edge.
  • Vacuum mold or soot off: all edges, spine, both covers,
  • Open covers, vacuum off inner edge near hinges.
  • Wipe with cloth sprayed with Lysol.
  • Put books back in library in a stable, dry environment and monitor for reappearance of mold.

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