DISASTER PLANNING: Mold and Water Salvage

Growth Cycle of Mold
Last week I attended a workshop in Springfield, Illinois at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library to learn about salvaging mold and water damaged library materials. It was hosted by Jennifer Hain Teper, Preservation Librarian and Head of Preservation Services at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Bonnie Parr, Historical Documents Conservator at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum.

The workshop included an overview of mold and library materials including: sources of mold, a brief introduction to health risks when dealing with mold, and options for remediation/removal. I did not know much about mold going into this workshop, so I was interested to learn some basic facts. For example, mold grows best at high temperatures and high humidity, which is why cold storage is best for archival materials. I also learned too new terms.

Example of foxing, taken from
The Private Library
Foxing and efflorescence are two types of damage often mistaken for mold, explained Jennifer Hain Teper. Foxing is the result of the paper making process for pulp or rag based books. Brown or reddish spots appear on pages of books, stamps, or other paper based records. The rust chemical in the water used during the paper making process embeds itself into the paper. It makes it nearly impossible to eliminate. 

Efflorescence occurs on leather when the environment humidity is too low. It is a salt crystalline structure that creates a white film across leather surfaces. To combat this, libraries used to perform “leather dressing” on materials, which involved rubbing oil on books to hydrate the leather. Unfortunately, this process increases efflorescence because it adds moisture to something that can’t soak it up.

Salvaging water damaged books
The second part of the workshop was about salvaging wet library materials. This included an introduction to disaster response when water strikes and an overview of methods for drying various types of materials found in library collections. Bonnie Parr placed bins on our tables which were filled with water and various library materials (books, DVDs, pictures, etc.). She walked us through how best to drain and dry each item, or deciding what to throw away. 

In a real situation the number of items affected by water would determine the best course of action. A small number can be dried in-house with paper towels, fans, or freezer space. For entire sections of a library that need to be closed off, it is best to have a contract with a salvaging company.

At our tables we pulled items from the bin to see what the damage had been. The books were completely soaked through and weighed about sixty percent more. The ink from book covers leaked into magazines and pictures, and left the water blue. 

Clothesline with pictures and film strips
There was a clothesline under the table for film strips and photographs because using a paper towel to dry them might ruin the emulsion. This small scale experiment was useful to imagine a real world situation and just how much worse it would be.

I would like to thank Jennifer Hain Teper and Bonnie Parr for presenting to us, and for the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library for hosting this event.


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