Water Emergency: Recovery of Water-Damaged Books

 Most water-damaged materials from minor/moderate emergencies can be recovered in-house through air-drying. Depending on the degree to which the materials have been saturated, the drying process may last as long as a week or be completed in one day. Some degree of physical distortion and staining can be expected with air-dried materials. Once a decision to air-dry books in-house has been made, the damaged books should be sorted according to the degree of damage, as follows:

Do not air-dry vellum or leather bindings, materials with water-soluble inks/colors, manuscripts, drawings, photographs or rare materials without first consulting a conservator.

Take care when handling wet paper – it tears easily!

1. BOOKS THOROUGHLY SOAKED: Have been submerged in water or standing beneath running water. They will require intense individual attention to air-dry. If time does not allow this attention, freeze for later treatment. If large quantities of books are saturated, freeze-drying may be the best option.

a. Air-drying: Fewer than 500 non-coated paper books with non‑water soluble components.
  • Do not open book, fan pages or remove bindings.
  • Cover drying surface with plastic sheeting & absorbent paper (e.g. unprinted newsprint), as needed.
  • Stand the soaked book on end (head or tail) & allow water to drain.
  • Place paper towels (or aluminum foil if cover dyes are bleeding) between the textblock & the covers.
  • Change paper beneath the books & paper towels as they become saturated.
  • Keep air circulating by using fans. Do not aim fans directly at the wet materials.
  • Allow books to drain until they are ‘wet’ books.

b. Freezing & Freeze-drying: Freezing wet materials will stabilize them, prevent mold growth & provide time to determine a course of action. Rapid freezing to –15 to -20 degrees F is recommended to minimize damage from ice crystals. Home freezers rarely meet this criterion! 

Once frozen, it is best to dry materials by the vacuum freeze-drying method. During vacuum freeze-drying, water from the damaged material sublimates, i.e., passes from a solid state (frozen) to a gaseous state (vapor), bypassing the liquid stage & therefore minimizing damage from inks and dyes running, boards warping & paper cockling. It is important not to place materials into a vacuum freeze-dryer in distorted shape if at all possible, since they tend to emerge from the process in that same shape. If freeze-drying is not possible, the materials must be thawed and air-dried. 

c. Packing for Freezing: The Assistant Disaster Recovery Coordinator or designee arranges for freezer space, pallets, hand-trucks, and transport trucks.
  • Remove volumes in call number order, if possible.
  • Record the contents of each box as packed. The recorder(s) will work with packers to devise a system appropriate for the situation. A portable barcode reader may be the best tool.
  • Wrap each item in freezer paper or wax paper. This will allow a final sorting before drying if necessary and will prevent the books from freezing together.
  • Pack items in plastic crates, the sides of which have been lined with cardboard to prevent “imprinting.” If these are not available, use cardboard boxes.
  • Pack items in the condition in which they are found. Do not attempt to separate books that are stuck together, pack them as one item.
  • Pack books spine down in a single row from end-to-end of the crate. Books should be packed “snugly” but never tightly: wet books will continue to swell even during the freezing process.
  • Avoid stacking materials on top of one another. If books are too large to pack spine down, stack them no more than four high in size order beginning with the largest book on the bottom.
  • Attach a Library ownership tag to each box & assign each box a number. Keep records of each box number, call numbers of each volume or inclusive range & total number of books in each container. Use a portable barcode reader if possible. This information is vital to the subject specialists and the cataloguing department.
  • If containers are sent to more than one freezer facility, note which container numbers are sent where.
  • Move the boxes to a local freezer facility or transport to a vacuum freeze-drying facility. Materials should be placed in refrigerated trucks if they cannot be frozen within 48 hrs.

a. Air-drying: Fewer than 500 non-coated paper books with non‑water soluble components.
  • Cover drying surface with plastic sheeting & absorbent paper (e.g. unprinted newsprint), as needed.
  • Open book to a shallow angle & interleave approximately every 20 pages with paper towels. Begin by laying the book flat & interleaving at the front of the book, allowing the work surface to support the main weight. When interleaving has reached the approximate center of the textblock, turn the book over and start interleaving from the back.
  • The book may be left flat until paper towels have absorbed some of the water, about one hour.
  • Stand book on end (head or tail), slightly fanned.
  • Change paper beneath the books and interleaving periodically until the book is only “damp”, and then proceed to #3.
  • Keep air circulating by using fans. Do not aim fans directly at the wet materials.

  • Cover drying surface with plastic sheeting & absorbent paper (e.g. unprinted newsprint).
  • Stand damp books on head or tail, slightly fanned. If the cover is damper than the text, place absorbent paper between the boards and book, change them as needed.
  • Use fans to circulate air to dry the books completely.