Stabilizing Wet Books

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  • Book and Paper Group
  • Emergency Preparedness and Recovery
Drying wet books at the San Francisco Public Library

This page addresses wet salvage of books during emergency response. More information about the conservation treatment of books can be found on the Book and Paper Group Wiki.

See also: Stabilizing Wet Paper and Stabilizing Wet Skin and Leather

Facts about books[edit | edit source]

Books are generally fabricated from paper which is made from a variety of fibers such as bast, cotton, hemp and wood. Fibers can be good or poor quality, coated, calendared, sized and unsized. They all react differently to water depending on their composition, use and past storage conditions.

  • Paper expands and contracts
  • Surface texture can be very smooth to very rough, some are clay-coated
  • Fillers are added to increase weight, density and strength
  • Paper has a “grain direction”
  • A variety of media can be present on any given artwork
  • Books can be composites and very complex in nature
  • Paper is 90% air and is very absorbent
  • Books can be constructed using parchment and other unusual materials
  • Books are usually shelved in a specific order – maintain the order.

What to expect when books get wet[edit | edit source]

  • Old mends and bindings will release where adhesives are water soluble
  • Books (text block in particular) can be very heavy and difficult to pick up without support
  • Media and some binding materials may run or bleed
  • Pages will cockle and staining may occur
  • Capillary action will wick up moisture and create tidelines
  • Mold growth is possible
  • Coated papers will block (stick together) if not frozen immediately
  • Books on a shelf may swell and be difficult and dangerous to remove

Drying books[edit | edit source]

  • Air dry actively moving the air with fans
  • Freeze to buy time if necessary
  • Use carrying supports for large items or weak papers
  • Blot off excess water, be careful of sensitive media
  • Air dry by fanning out pages

Salvage priorities[edit | edit source]

  • Unstable books first (bleeding inks, coated papers, parchment)
  • Composite constructions (metal fasteners, encrusted covers, mixed media)
  • If media or binding materials are bleeding onto other items, remove first.
  • All very wet to slightly damp books are prone to mold.
  • Freeze as soon as possible if drying space and resources are limited
  • Low priority are replaceable books or circulating collections