Disasters


Here are some highlights of what we saw at Preservation Destination 2019!

On Monday our lab’s staff traveled to an event hosted by ICPC (Iowa Conservation and Preservation Consortium). It’s an annual get-together called Preservation Destination. A large group of us, Iowa preservation professionals, go to a place in Iowa and have behind the scenes tours of as many cultural heritage institutions as we can cram into one day. Here are some of our favorite things that we saw.

From Sonya Barron, Collections Conservator:

From left to right: 1. At the University of Northern Iowa (UNI) theater costume storage. 2. UNI Museum: a storage mount made for a saddle. 3. UNI Archives: The Rural School Collection ledgers

At the Ice House Museum we learned about how ice was preserved. Large blocks of ice were loaded into the barn-like building and stored there until the summer. Layers of saw dust had to be placed in between each ice block so that the blocks didn’t fuse together.

Every winter, the Ice House was filled up with ice to the top of the central beam. The light colored wood boards that you see on the roof show where there roof was repaired. Before the repairs these were holes!

From Cynthia Kapteyn, Assistant Conservator:

In 2008, The Cedar Falls Ice House Museum flooded. It was only inevitable, as the historic building is situated right next to the Cedar River. The disaster resulted in damage to nearly all of the artifacts in the collection, most of which were housed on the ground floor. To this day, the collections manager is still dealing with effects of the flood.

That’s where the water was in 2008.

In the picture above, conservator Sonya Barron is pointing to the spot the water rose to during the flood. To circumvent this issue in the case of a future catastrophe, the floor was raised a foot above the flood line.

From Mindy Moeller, Senior Conservation Assistant:

At the University of Northern Iowa Nathan Arndt, Assistant Director and Chief Curator of the UNI Museum at the Rod Library, gave us a very informative tour.  While at the UNI Museum, I was interested in seeing how they displayed and housed their precious and educational exhibits.  One picture that I took really stuck out in my mind as to how simple it was, easy to do, not costly, and we must use this example for the next time we are housing pins, buttons, or other small objects that can be stored together yet separated and protected. 

Small artifacts between dividers.

At the museum, they used small archival boxes and simply made “ice cube tray-like” dividers with pieces of 1/8” thick Ethafoam.  This idea could be used for any depth of an archival box to keep items apart and still have room for an identifying tag for each object. 

From Jim Wilcox, Conservation Assistant:

The raw material on the left and the mounts on the right.

The UNI Museum’s collections care and mount making room is a space with a large table, where you can work all the way around it and have all the supplies needed at hand. Like the large supply of backer rod you might find at a construction site. Why backer rod? To stabilize objects that are round at the base or nearly so and that could tip over easily. The items then could either be boxed, or stored on open shelving like this.

Every library that participates in interlibrary lending has experienced some damage to collection materials at some point in time.  There are, of course, the usual signs of damage we expect in circulating collections like beverage stains, something sticky on the covers, and dog chew.  Then there is the damage caused during transit.  We have received books in their packaging that look as if they have been run over, others that were wet, and once we received a book soaked in meat juices.  But considering the amount that this library lends and borrows, the percentage of damaged materials is low.

Breaking news:  A USPS truck from Ames, Iowa headed to the Des Moines, Iowa USPS sorting facility caught  on fire on Interstate 35.  The good news is that the driver walked away uninjured.  The bad news is that ISU Library had twenty-four packages on the truck.  The packages contained books being interlibrary loaned to other libraries as well as books being returned to various libraries.

burnt books

Remains of library books damaged in the USPS truck fire.

When I heard the news, I was a little surprised since I had never heard of a mail truck catching on fire.  I wanted more details but could not find information on the USPS site or any local media so I simply used a third-party federated search engine (yes, I Googled it).  There were more mail trucks catching on fire across the country than I would have guessed, and these hits did not even include the Ames/Des Moines fire at the time of my search.
Total loss triptic3

The fire occurred on a Tuesday and the first few packages arrived back at the library on Friday.  The items were still in what was left of their packaging and wrapped in plastic.  Some were total losses including an old pocket guide to France and a book on Camp Dodge (local history), while a handful were just a little singed, sooty, and damp.  Interestingly, one book came back with severely burnt packaging but the book itself was only damp; the subject was witchcraft.  More books trickled in over time, some were actually delivered to the receiving library; some libraries immediately returned books to us and other were told to toss them and we would pay to replace them.  Through all of this, the books remained damp and tightly wrapped in plastic.  Surprisingly, nothing was moldy.  I am still perplexed since it is summer in the Midwest.  USPS response to the fire and water damage was to spread out all items on wire racks, with halogen lights on the materials (I’m assuming for heat and/or UV exposure) and fans blowing.  There was no mention of dehumidifiers running.  Then packages were hand sorted and wrapped in plastic.  Their quick response must have prevented the mold; although, I still do not understand how the damp books wrapped in plastic that we received a week later did not show signs of mold, not that I am complaining.

minor damage

For ISU materials, treatment decisions were easy, and books were air-dried and covers removed.  The trickier decisions were what to do with other library’s materials.  I thought about what my reaction would be if one of our books was returned rebound or repaired without my approval, and decided that 1) I might question their judgment and ability to properly treat materials, and 2) my level of acceptable damage that I can live with may be very different from theirs, so I tended toward recommending replacements if the books was relatively new and treatment if it was just a little stained and could be air-dried.  Our head of Resource Sharing communicated with all of the libraries affected by this fire, but none of them were very forthcoming on whether or not they wanted us to treat their materials or simply pay for replacements.  While waiting for responses, these books were also air-dried and flattened.

The lab started to smell like a bar-b-que because of the charred books.  The fumigation trashcan was set-up with Gonzo odor removal bags, the books were placed inside on grates, and the trashcan sealed tightly.  After a few days, the Gonzo was replaced and after several more days the books had a less strong smoky odor, but still noticeably smoky none-the-less.

Damaged books arranged in the fumigation trashcan.

Damaged books arranged in the fumigation trashcan.

This incident is really making me rethink interlibrary lending of any Special Collections and University Archives materials.  In general, we only lend reference materials and University Archives books that are replaceable, but books in the Archives are our faculty publications which are more valuable to us than they are be to other libraries that have them in their circulating collections.  Most, if not all, of these titles are available through other libraries, so I do not feel bad sending the request on to the next lending library.

PeelAndStick-01

“Peel and stick” are very bad words in the world of books.  We know these as adhesive labels or sheets to correct errors made by editors and publishers.  I haven’t seen one in a while, but this time I found two old sheets as replacement pages in the book Turbidite-Hosted Gold Deposits, GAC Special paper 32, 1986.  This book came to me after a recent mini-water disaster of roughly 1,000 books here in the Parks Library.  The book survived the water disaster very well; however, its old adhesive pages had not.

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There were two “replacement pages” in large sheets that had been inserted as corrective pages for errata, and over time the adhesive had stained other pages, come apart in some areas, and also was very sticky in other areas.  The old “Fasson Crack’n Peel Plus” was failing in several areas.

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To remedy this, I will remove the two adhesive sheets, photocopy the pages onto acid free paper, and tip them in.  I cannot remove the yellow stains on the other pages but can scrape and clean away any remaining sticky residue.  The peel and stick correction seems to be a good idea but in reality is not.

It’s my final week at ISU Library, and I’m feeling nostalgic. Looking back on my five and a half years in the Conservation Lab, there are a few treatments that stand out as particularly memorable.

The 2010 flood hit during my first summer in Ames, and strongly impacted the next 18 months in the lab, as we salvaged and treated thousands of flood-soaked documents, architectural drawings, blueprints, and photographs for Facilities, Planning & Management.

2010Flood-Melissa

In 2011, this ISU football manual from the 1930s landed on my bench. I enjoyed the challenge of trying to preserve the original structure of the 3-ring binder, while also giving the acidic and insect-damaged pages some support. You can read about the treatment in my original post.

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In 2012, I worked on another football-related conservation treatment, the housing for the last letter written by Jack Trice. He wrote the letter on hotel stationery in 1923, on the eve of his first major college football game, during which he sustained fatal injuries. The double-sided letter is suspended in a Mylar window in this portfolio, so both sides can be read.

The last letter written by Jack Trice in 1923, on the eve of the college football game in which he was fatally injured.

The last letter written by Jack Trice in 1923, on the eve of the college football game in which he was fatally injured.

The original letter is housed in ISU Library Special Collections, but we also created a facsimile which I bound into a custom enclosure decked out in Cyclone colors for Coach Rhoads to take with him on recruiting trips.

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Facsimile of the last letter written by Jack Trice.

In 2013, I thoroughly enjoyed working on a display rehousing for unclassified botanical specimens in the Sarah Underwood Papers.

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In 2014, a new acquisition came to the lab with a curling, brittle paper label. I ended up resewing the textblock and rebacking the spine. This project was a particular pleasure because the sewing structure was a bit of a mystery to unravel, quite literally.

The Practical Planter (1799)

The Practical Planter (1799)

It turned out the volume had been sewn five-on, five-on, seven-on, seven-on, five-on on four support cords. This method would have saved time and money for the bookseller, and was in keeping with the humble paper retail binding. I resewed following the original pattern.

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And finally, just this month, I finished a full leather rebinding of a 1579 Italian imprint of Garcia de Orta’s Aromatum et simplicium aliquot… The book came to us bound in a typical eighteenth-century English style tightback binding covered in acid-sprinkled calfskin leather. Although the binding style was anachronistic with respect to the textblock, it told a story of the volume’s provenance, so I was hesitant to remove it. However, the volume had been oversewn and had some tears and sloppy hide glue repairs that made the book virtually unusable. I disbound the volume, removed the hide glue accretions, and mended and guarded the damaged pages. Then I rebound it in a manner sympathetic to the imprint’s sixteenth-century Italian origins by resewing on alum-tawed thongs with made endpapers of Italian handmade marbled paper. I sewed on silk endbands, and laced on boards built up from layers of paperboard. I covered the volume in edge-pared goatskin leather, working around the bands to give the appearance of a tightback, but in fact allowing a hollow on the spine when the book opens. According to Bernard Middleton, spine labels were not used before 1600 in Europe, although titles were sometime blind-tooled directly on the spine. However, most spines were left blank, and this is what I chose for this volume, since it would be housed in a cloth-covered clamshell box along with its previous case (which was given a foam insert for support).

Previous binding on left; rebound volume on right.

Previous binding (with foam insert)  on left; rebound volume on right.

Benchwork has been only one part of the enriching professional activities I have enjoyed during my tenure as ISU Library’s Conservator, but it has been a fascinating and deeply rewarding part of my work.

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!

 

Over the years, we have introduced and highlighted our many wonderful students and interns in the Preservation Department.  They perform an immense amount of work, and work that is often mundane or sometimes just icky.  Our students have helped us slog through hundreds of fishy smelling architectural drawings after the 2010 floods, they vacuum mold, and they help keep us young.

This time I would like to recognize and thank students that work in the Stacks Management unit.  Last week Rylie Pflughaupt, Rebecca Schmid, and Megan Primorse were shifting a portion of our general collection and discovered what they thought was mold on some of our books.  Our Stacks students are trained to look for signs of mold, water leaks, and other library concerns, while they are shelving and shifting, and they have certainly caught many problems throughout the years.  This time their focus and training alerted us to a mold problem that affected three floors of open stacks.  After being alerted to the mold, Stacks and Preservation students also helped us do a walk-through of stacks areas serviced by the same air handler to identify other books with mold.

moldy books

What our Stacks students found looked like a powdery residue on certain books scattered throughout 44,000 volumes.  These were not obviously moldy books with entire areas covered in fuzzy, full bloom mold.  These looked more like books with old, failed book tape adhesive on the spines or just seriously dusty books.

Powdery mold on books

The other mold pattern was a little more obvious.  The mold formed clumps or dots that were more three-dimensional.  Under magnification you could see the interconnected network and what looked like sporangiophore and sporangium.

Mold dotsOur Environmental Health and Safety staff took tape samples off of our books and vents and identified three types of mold in the area.  Facilities Planning and Management identified a valve stuck open on a humidification unit, and dampers that were not responding properly.  Although we do not know exactly when this bloom happened, looking at our temperature and relative humidity data, we think it happened in late July when the temperature spiked for three days with the corresponding drop in relative humidity and then just as quickly the temperature dropped with the relative humidity spiking, creating warm air and cool surfaces for condensation.

This may finally be the event that makes everyone including Facilities Planning and Management take notice.  Deferred maintenance (waiting for something to break) of the library HVAC system is not adequate.  With all of the additions to the building and expansion of  the existing HVAC system and air handling units, environmental conditions in the stacks areas cannot be kept stable under reasonable conditions especially when the system is not functioning at or near 100%.  After years of charts and graphs and complaints from Preservation, progress may actually be made because of three observant Stacks students alerting their supervisor to possible mold in the stacks.

It’s National Preservation Week! While every week of the year is “preservation week” for cultural heritage professionals, National Preservation Week focuses on outreach to the general public and among allied professions such as archivists, librarians, museum curators, vendors of archival supplies, preservation administrators, and conservators.

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Here at ISU Library, we’re focusing attention this week on what to do about WET BOOKS.  Too often, a library book accidentally gets wet, and by the time the borrower  has returned it to the library, it is so infested with mold that we end up having to discard the book and charge the borrower a hefty replacement fee.  Library users often don’t realize how expensive it is to replace a library book. Not only are they charged the cost of the book itself, but also processing fees for the book to be acquired, cataloged, and marked for the shelf.

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T-Shirt Giveaway

We’ve designed Preservation Week t-shirts with the design above on the front, and advice about how to handle wet books on the back.  Access Services and Preservation staff will be wearing the t-shirts as well as “Ask Me About Book First Aid!” stickers.  This Wednesday, April 30, through Friday, May 2, we will be giving away free t-shirts to the first 40 library users who ask a t-shirt-wearing staff member about preservation or book first aid.

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During the 2010 flood, we waived fees for replacing damaged books, because we recognized that the campus community was struggling to salvage a lot more than their library books. However, we would really like to save students and staff the cost of replacement fees whenever possible, so we’re campaigning to educate our users about what Preservation can do for them. 

Accidents happen! Sometimes, a drink spills onto a library book. Books get rained on, or dropped in puddles. Bringing a wet book back to the library immediately gives Preservation a chance to dry it properly before permanent damage (warping, cockling, mold) sets in.  Follow our simple tips to help us mitigate damage to our collections, and your reward will be avoiding a potentially costly replacement fee!

Damp Book?

  • Fan open pages
  • Stand book on end in well-ventilated area until dry.
  • Return book to Circulation Desk and tell staff.

Wet Book?

  • Return book immediately to Circulation Desk.
  • If Library is closed: Wrap book in wax paper or foil and freeze. Return the still-wrapped book to the Library as soon as it opens.
  • Do not put a wet book in a plastic bag!

Moldy Book?

  • Seal book in a plastic bag.
  • Return book to Circulation Desk as soon as possible.
  • Warn staff that book is moldy.

Thank you for helping us care for the library collections that we all share!

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