Blog – Document Recovery

Cover Story: Restoring Damaged Books

When restoring water damaged documents, including damaged books, freezing is your first priority. Air drying works for smaller quantities of books that haven’t seen extensive damage, but many libraries and historical societies lack the facilities for proper drying. In this situation, freezing within 24 hours – ideally, blast freezing – is best to halt the damage in its tracks. You’ll need to arrange a space for drying or freezing; don’t move damaged books until that restoration location is prepared. Have your supplies all laid out:

  • Milk crates or plastic cartons to hold the books as they’re drying or freezing. Line cardboard boxes with plastic sheeting if you’re in a pinch.
  • Wax paper for interleaving between coated paper pages. (Set these damaged books aside to be vacuum freeze dried, as that will be the most successful treatment method.)
  • Freezer paper and blotter paper for placement between books as they are stored spine down in the crates.
  • Fans and dehumidifiers for protecting your undamaged document and book collections.

To dry damp books, stand them upright and gently fan them open. Oversized items will need to lie flat; pad top and bottom covers with blotter paper, and interleave the pages with unlinked newspaper or more blotting paper. As the absorbent interleaving paper becomes soaked, change it out until the oversized water damaged documents are dry.

When restoring damaged books, it’s important to pay attention to materials contained in bindings and covers. The steps listed above work well for books with cloth or paper covers, but leather and vellum require special procedures because they are derived from animal skin. Vacuum freeze drying is best for leather- and vellum-bound books. Most facilities will need to contact a book restoration firm in order to access this technology.

If your library, school or museum falls victim to a natural disaster, Polygon can be a valuable partner in your recovery efforts. Schools and universities across the country trust Polygon to restore their damaged books and other water damaged documents. We offer both desiccant and true vacuum freeze drying, allowing us to restore a broader range of items. For institutions that wish to be especially prepared, we recommend participation in our Rapid Response Program. This entails sharing certain information on your collection before any potential disaster hits. Cataloguing important documents in this way allows Polygon to more quickly formulate a recovery plan when time is of the essence, and Rapid Response Program participants have our first priority when disasters strike.

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