The process of restoring water-damaged books can be complicated, time-consuming, and costly, so it is no wonder that institutions such as museums, libraries, and schools are constantly looking for new and effective ways to prevent water damage as well as plans of action if such damage does occur. Rare book rooms are common in most major libraries and bookstores in the country, and some museums and organizations are home to the most valuable, important pieces of literary history. The American Bible Society’s Rare Book Collection contains the first edition of the King James Bible, the Rare Book & Special Collections division of the Library of Congress houses hundreds of first-edition books from throughout American history, and even most colleges and universities have very important rare book collections. When these collections are damaged by water or mold, the institutions that house them not only face a significant financial loss, the world loses a vital part of its history as well.
While you probably don’t have first edition copies of historical texts in your personal library, an old family photo album or favorite book can seem just as important. If water or mold damage occurs to any heirloom book you will want to take the same measures that the curators of the above-mentioned collections would get your treasure back to near its original condition.
In order to ensure an effective drying process, museums, schools, and personal collectors must know the different types of drying techniques and how they affect certain composite materials. Water absorption depends on the age, condition, and material of the paper that has been damaged, so it is important to know what kind of books you are attempting to recover before moving forward with any drying techniques. Books dated pre-1840 will generally absorb much more water than their modern-day counterparts and thus run a much higher risk of experiencing swelling or mold damage. Leather-bound books of the 15th, 16th, and 17th centuries can usually be restored using extremely controlled procedures. Unfortunately, the leather used to bind most modern books has been processed so badly that recovering modern water-damaged books is almost impossible.
Only professional recovery service providers can determine the exact extent of water damage your books have undergone and what drying technique is most appropriate. However, there are a few simple steps you can take immediately following the disaster that will help reduce the risk of permanent damage to your collection. Because humidity is one of the main sources of persisting damage to water-soaked books, it is very important to keep your artifacts in a very cool, dry place. If the damage has taken place in the winter, keep the material out of heated rooms. If the damage occurred during the summer, keep the material in air-conditioned rooms. Open windows and doors and set up as many fans in the affected area as possible. This creates airflow in the area and reduces the amount of humidity. De-humidifiers are also a good option if you happen to have one handy. Never attempt to open water-damaged books or separate individual sheets of paper; this may cause further damage that can be irreparable, even with modern drying techniques.
The actual drying and salvaging process should, of course, always be left to professionals. Restoration specialists use state-of-the-art technologies and drying techniques that are much more effective than basic do-it-yourself attempts you might try. The best technology available today comes in the form of desiccant air dry distribution systems. This approach lowers humidity in the drying area, allowing more of the water trapped in the book or document to evaporate. Services that offer desiccant air dry systems will often also allow clients access to their books and papers as they are drying, a very valuable service for business owners and people in a time crunch.
Another valuable drying technique offered by professional recovery services is freeze-drying. Vacuum-freeze systems distribute pressure evenly around the drying book, reducing warp, maintaining the original look and feel of the books or documents, and ensuring that future damage does not set in.
Floods and other types of water damage can cause stress and monetary loss. Most attempts by individuals to dry their damaged books themselves will either fail or result in warped, misshapen end products. However, by employing water-damage restoration experts you can take comfort in knowing that your books are in good hands and will come out as near to their original condition as possible.