Ames Flood (August 2010)

CLose up of the textured surface of Tek wipe, which is a nonwoven polyester and cellulose blend.

Close-up of the textured surface of Tek wipe, which is a nonwoven polyester and cellulose blend.

The AIC Annual Meeting in 2014 was abuzz with the virtues of Tek Wipe as a paper conservation material. We had been considering purchasing some as a disaster salvage supply for a while, after seeing how much cotton blotter we used up in the recovery from the Ames Flood of 2010. As the Chair-Elect of the AIC Sustainability Committee, I find the idea of an absorbent non-woven that is washable and reusable to be very appealing. Its reusability makes this material an attractive choice from both an environmental and an economic perspective. However, it wasn’t until I started hearing about other treatment uses for the material that I got over my inertia and ordered some for our lab.  Six months of experimentation later, I’m very pleased with Tek wipe’s versatility and results.

Tek wipe on a 35" wide roll.

Tek wipe on a 35″ wide roll.

Tek wipe is a highly absorbent polyester/cellulose nonwoven textile which can be ordered by the sheet or by the roll. We chose to order a roll and cut it down to sheets that are custom sized for various purposes. We have precut sheets to keep on hand for water disaster scenarios, but I have also been using it for document washing and paper mending in place of (and sometimes in addition to) cotton blotter. For mending, I have used Tek wipe in place of the small rectangles of blotter cut to fit our glass and plexi glass weights. I still sandwich Reemay or Holytex between the Tek wipe and the mend, because the Tek wipe can stick to the mend (or even the paper support itself) if allowed to dry in direct contact.

However, where Tek wipe’s versatility really shines is as a washing material.  I’ll qualify that assertion by saying my assessments are visual and anecdotal; we haven’t the time or the resources in our lab to assess the results with technical analytics (hint, hint to the conservation graduate students out there…)  I’ve been working on a project treating about twenty issues of a mid-19th century horticulture journal suffering from water and mold damage. All of the issues exhibit black and purple mold stains, as well as caked-on surface dirt and pronounced tidelines which fluoresce under UV light. Regardless of whether the tidelines are fluorescing as an indication of mold hyphae or an indication of soluble paper degradation products, reducing them has been a desirable part of this treatment. The project has therefore offered an ideal opportunity for testing out a few different washing techniques with Tek wipe.

Tidelines fluorescing under UV light.

Tidelines fluorescing under UV light.

After the initial treatment steps of HEPA vacuuming, dry cleaning, and misting with an ethanol solution, the separated folios of the horticulture journal were then washed aqueously.  I tried three different washing techniques with Tek wipe: blotter sandwich washing, slant board washing, and a combination of immersion washing combined with abbreviated blotter sandwich washing.  Tek wipe performed usefully in all three scenarios, dramatically reducing the tidelines visible in ambient light and completely removing the fluorescing compounds.  For all three washing methods, documents were dried in a blotter/Reemay stack under weight.

Blotter Sandwich Washing

For the blotter sandwich, I used Tek wipe in place of Reemay or Hollytex.  I sandwiched the document between two piece of Tek wipe, then sandwiched the ensemble between two piece of thick cotton blotter. This method worked the best to the naked eye, completely removing all visible traces of the tidelines. All fluorescing compounds were likewise removed with this method.

Slant Board Washing

In this scenario, I used Tek wipe in lieu of a fleece, but otherwise followed standard slant board washing procedures. The Tek wipe seemed to wick a bit more slowly than fleece, but the stain was reduced almost as well as blotter sandwich washing, with slight ghosting remaining. All fluorescing compounds were also removed with this method.

Immersion Washing Followed by Abbreviated Blotter Sandwich Washing

While trying the above washing methods with Tek wipe proved informative, neither method would be suitable for the scale of this project, which requires the washing of over 200 folios. So, I decided to try immersion washing in combination with a blotter sandwich lined with Tek wipe.  Following usual procedures, I washed a Reemay stack with one full issue of the journal in multiple baths of short duration (5 minutes each): two baths in deionized water, followed by two alkaline baths. Even though the water in the final bath remained clear, some visible tidelines did remain in the documents. The documents were peeled one by one from the stack and placed in a blotter/Tek wipe sandwich stack. The documents were re-misted with recalcified water after about an hour, and left for another hour in the blotter/Tek wipe stack. This method greatly reduced the tidelines, leaving behind only faint ghosting, and removing all fluorescing compounds.  I selected this method for the remainder of the project because it produced acceptable results in a more time-efficient manner.

Before (above) and after (below) immersion washing followed by abbreviated blotter/Tek wipe sandwich washing.

Before (above) and after (below) immersion washing followed by abbreviated blotter/Tek wipe sandwich washing.

Washing the Tek wipe in very warm water and then air-drying it removed the stains the material absorbed from the washing processes above, leaving it ready to be used again.

How Are You Using Tek Wipe?

Are you using Tek wipe for conservation treatments? We’d love to hear about your experience in the comments section.  I’m especially interested to hear if anyone has tried using Tek wipe instead of blotter in a drying stack in a treatment, rather than disaster salvage, scenario, and whether that was successful.

What do you like or dislike about the material? Have you had any particular successes or failures using it? Do you have any cautions to share?  Please join the conversation!


1091MapFor this month’s 1091 post, we’re taking a moment to appreciate the impact Mother Nature can have on the preservation of heritage collections, both in terms of natural disasters and climate. After two years of severe drought in Iowa, we have been keeping an anxious eye on groundwater and river levels throughout a spring season of near-daily thunderstorms and heavy rains.  We’re keeping our fingers crossed that we will not have a repeat of the 2010 flood in Ames, during which parts of the University were flooded and thousands of working documents and architectural plans were damaged.


If you’re not familiar with the Midwest, you might glance at these photos (taken from the window of our Conservation Lab) and think you see mountains in the distance, but this is Iowa, and those are storm clouds rolling in over the prairie.


Even without flooding, these relentlessly damp, humid conditions have increased the risk of mold blooms, and we have seen more ground-dwelling insects driven indoors by high groundwater.  Let’s head over to Preservation Underground to find out how Mother Nature has been treating North Carolina, home to Duke University Libraries.

1091MapThis month’s 1091 Project highlights the role of student workers in the Conservation Lab.  Quite honestly, many university conservation departments wouldn’t be nearly as productive without these unsung workhorses of conservation. Often the most tedious tasks fall to the students: they make enclosures, tip-in loose pages, surface clean, and vacuum moldy items.  Yet they perform these tasks efficiently and cheerfully, and miraculously, they keep showing up for work.

When I interned at the Conservation Lab at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, many of the students working in the lab were also studying in the GSLIS program.  We don’t have a library school here at ISU, so our students come from other departments. Of our current four student employees, one is a graduate student pursuing her MA in History (although she started working for us as an undergraduate Anthropology major), one is an Anthropology major, one is a Design major, and one is a Elementary Education major.

Hannah makes spine title labels for tux boxes.

Hannah makes spine title labels for tux boxes.

Our students tackle a variety of projects according to their handskills and experience.  Hannah just started with us this semester, and she has learned to surface clean, insert tip-ins, sew on pamphlet binders, and construct tux boxes and other four-flap wrappers.  We have a shelf full of items needing other types of boxes which will be next on her plate.

Devin has been with us for about a year, but already had excellent handskills from her experience in the College of Design.  She performs many mid-level treatments such as custom portfolio construction, double-fan adhesive bindings, and shield bindings.  Devin divides her work schedule between Conservation and the Preservation Services unit of the Preservation Department.

Ashley clamps down adhesive bindings in a book press.

Ashley clamps down adhesive bindings in a book press.

Ashley and Hope have both worked in the lab for two and a half years.  Their handskills have developed beautifully during this time, and both are now capable of executing more advanced book repairs such as rebacks, new cases, re-cases, and “full repairs,” which they tackle when the more general student treatment workflow slows down at various points throughout the year.

Hope repairs a volume of color samples.  And yes, she knows that our volunteer Martha is giving her mutant bunny ears.  She's good-natured like that.

Hope repairs a volume of color samples. And yes, she knows that our volunteer Martha is giving her mutant bunny ears. She’s good-natured like that.

When we hire new students, we look for hobbies or work experience that show evidence of good eye-hand coordination, but we don’t expect them to have any prior bookbinding or conservation experience. The typical student workflow includes materials preparation (such as cutting spine inserts and hinging endpapers), surface cleaning, box-making, tip-ins, page mending, pamphlet binding, double-fan adhesive binding, shield binding, vacuuming mold, and small-scale deacidification using a compressor and Book Keeper’s spray unit.  The students have also been called upon to assist during disaster recovery.  In fact, when Hope and Ashley first started working in the lab, they spent a month washing Mylar architectural plans which had been damaged during the 2010 Ames flood.

We know our students’ first and foremost goal is to receive a good education here at ISU.  We appreciate being just one of their many priorities, and have been impressed by their reliability, their cheerful hard work, and their diligence in developing their handskills.  We couldn’t run the lab without them!

Don’t forget to stop by Preservation Underground to hear about the student technician experience in the Conservation Lab of Duke University Libraries.

Do you remember that flood we had a couple of years ago?

Photo by Des Moines Register staff

The seemingly boring pile of blotter below is actually the last of the thousands of plans that we took out of the basement of Facilities, Planning and Management and treated after the flood. We’re just waiting for some storage tubes to arrive before they go to Special Collections.

Finished plans between blotter

What have we learned over the last two years and two months?

Melissa learned how to put theory into practice by organizing an impressive and creative salvage response.

Drying operation in the mechanical room.

Our newly hired student workers learned about the lab and each other while washing sheet after sheet of plans on Mylar. Amazingly, two of three are still will us.

Ashely, Ben and Hope

And as you have read over the course of the years, I have learned quite a bit about architectural drawings, the Iowa State campus and more than I’d like to know about tape removal. I could say that I learned how wonderfully helpful everyone in the lab is but I knew that before the flood. Still, many thanks to everyone for lending a hand when needed, because as you can see from the photo below a conservator often needs a third hand.

A third hand would be helpful right now

Mostly what we learned is something we already knew: responding to a disaster is hard and time consuming work. Taking steps to prevent a potential disaster is well worth the time. I will leave you with one final photo and a question. What’s in your basement?

Flood residue left after washing

You might remember my Frankenplan post. I needed to line a large blueprint that was in pieces. I temporarily joined all the parts using bridge repairs along the front so that I could apply a lining on the back of the plan.

Overall, I was pleased with the result, but bridge repairs on such a large piece are not perfect. They are time consuming to apply and remove, and things can shift during the lining process.

I was wondering if it would be possible to do such a repair without applying the bridge repairs. I went to my pile of flood-damaged plans and found a plan with very little information near the tears, which gave me a little wiggle room if the repair was less than perfect.

The first step was to lightly humidify all the pieces. I then heavily sprayed a large piece of Melinex with deionized water and laid the largest piece down. I inserted the small wedge piece in first.

The great thing about using Melinex as the support was that I could flip it up to see if the piece was fitted in correctly.

The small piece went in quite nicely, so I took a deep breath and tried the other half of the plan.

I slowly butted the edges together.

Once I was satisfied that the tear was lined up as well as possible, I applied the lining. (Sorry I don’t have a photo, but you can refer to the Frankenplan post to see the general process.)

The end result was this, and overall I was quite pleased. You can still see the line of the repair, but that is to be expected. The plan had originally been roughly repaired with a long strip of packing tape applied to the back. The edges of the tear had been abraded with use.  Then the plan survived a flood, so I knew not to expect perfection.

Here are a few observations in case you are thinking of trying this at home.

1. Decide if you can live with imperfection. In this case, I did not have to worry about losing any information if the joins were not spot on.

2. Know your materials. I was also lucky in working with a relatively sturdy paper that I’ve spent a lot of time with in a wet state. I would have been much more hesitant to do this with a more fragile paper that I didn’t have experience with.

3. When I say spray the Melinex generously, I mean spray and spray again. I knew that Melinex was pretty magnetic, but I was surprised by how wet things needed to be to get even a bit of movement. Keep a towel handy.

4. I only lightly humidified the pieces before positioning them because I didn’t want the added moisture to weaken the paper too much. (As a conservator, I try not to tear things further while working on them.) Once I got the pieces down I needed to spray again to equalize the moisture front and back.

What do you think?

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