Books + Papers
Books, paper-based artwork, and paper records can sometimes be salvaged after being exposed to water, smoke and other extreme conditions during an emergency. Use these tips to evaluate what damaged items can be salvaged, and then to salvage what you can.
Salvage First Steps + General Rules
First steps for salvage
Prepare your salvage area, and make sure it’s secure.
Set up floor fans, and prepare lots of tables with absorbent materials.
Have a supply of clean water.
Set your salvage priorities — wettest vs. driest, one-of-a-kind vs. prints in an edition, lightest vs. heaviest, etc.
Review your drying methods: freeze, air-dry, vacuum freeze-dry and/or vacuum thermal-drying.
Wear your protective gear and have hazards identified.
Rules for wet paper + records
To prevent mold growth, freeze or dry within 48 hours.
Don’t take the time to separate stacks of papers. Freeze in bulk, separating stacks with interleaving materials. Later, when you have time and space, you can take a stack out of the freezer and air-dry it.
Unframe wet paper documents and artwork. If that’s not possible, at least turn them upside down and removing backing materials.
If items are rolled, leave them alone until they are partially dry, then try to manipulate. If they’re fragile, leave them alone.
Items with soluble media, running dyes or inks should be isolated from non-damaged items and frozen immediately.
Freeze coated papers immediately, then freeze-dry them later. If only a few pages are wet, separate them with wax paper and air-dry.
Rules for wet books
Along with the rules above for paper and records, add these for books
Don’t open and close them, or dirt and grime will get inside.
Separate books from each other with a wax-paper or freezer-paper book cover, to prevent migration of dyes, dirt or acids from leathers.
Pack books — spine-side down, one layer only — into milk crates (pad out the bottom with extra layers of paper, to prevent the crate from imprinting on wet spines) or prepared boxes lined with garbage bags.
Books with coated papers must be frozen immediately.
Rules for sooty, muddy or dirty paper + records
Don’t touch! Soot, mud and dirt is easily ground into the matrix of paper fibers.
Let mud dry before trying to remove.
Gently vacuum off soot, mud or dirt, using a piece of fiberglass window screening as an interleaving so the paper won’t get sucked up into the machine.
After vacuuming, use a “pet sponge” or “soot sponge” (available at the hardware store) to gently lift soot, mud or dirt residue from the surface.
Soot will go everywhere, so remember to clean the back, edges, and insides of everything!
Rules for sooty, muddy or dirty books
Along with following the rules above, don’t open and close books, as soot, mud or dirty will migrate easily to the inside pages.
Rules for business records
The rules above also apply to business records. Remember that air-dried papers are not going to be flat, so storing these documents will require more space in your filing cabinets. You can re-humidify air-dried papers and flatten them between dry blotters under weight, but this is quite time-consuming. If the information is all that you want and the originals are not crucial, simply air-dry or vacuum thermal-dry these documents and photocopy them.
- RAP, the Regional Alliance for Preservation, has several members throughout the United States who have field service programs that provide phone assistance in an emergency.
- The Northeast Document Conservation Center, a RAP member, has a number of technical leaflets on preparedness and salvage posted at its site, and runs a 24/7 hotline at 978-470-1010.
- Munters and Belfor-US are two of the large salvage vendors in the United States. with resources in every part of the country. They have freezer and freeze-drying facilities.
- The Minnesota Historical Society has a fabulous salvage website and provides good technical leaflets as well as up-to-date links to other web resources.
- The National Park Service offers technical “Conserv O Gram” leaflets on the care of collections and what to do with damaged artifacts.
- The American Institute for Conservation is a membership organization for the art conservators in the United States and abroad. If you need to locate a conservator near you, use their find-a-conservator service.
- The Library of Congress: Emergency Drying Procedures for Water Damaged Collections.