Water Emergencies

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Any time excess water enters a collection, it endangers books, paper, and photographs. Water can come from outdoors in the case of a flood, but it can also come from within a building, as in a sprinkler or plumbing leak. In a water emergency, dry any wet materials first, then attend to residual moisture in order to avoid a mold outbreak.

To dry a wet book, stand the book on end and open it to approximately a 90 degree angle. Gently fan the pages apart to allow the water to evaporate. Placing an electric fan near the book can help circulate air. Disposable paper towels can also be inserted between the pages; these paper towels may need to be changed several times during drying. Using paper towels in this manner is most important for clay-coated paper, which is identified by its slick feel and shiny appearance. This paper is prone to stick together upon drying.

Take extreme care when drying wet paper; it can be very fragile. Spread absorbent material across a flat surface and place the wet paper on the surface to dry, in small stacks if necessary. As the paper dries, interleave sheets with paper towels and change the towels periodically. When the paper is almost dry, place it between towels or blank newsprint and leave under light weight so the materials will dry flat.

Some types of photographs cannot survive a water emergency. If a wet photograph's image is still intact, the photograph can be air dried flat on a table with the image side facing up. Alternatively, photographs can be hung on a line with a clothespin. Be sure the clothespin does not touch the fragile image.

Coping with water emergencies is just one part of a larger process of disaster planning. All collections can benefit from having a clear disaster plan in place. Many resources are available to help collections caretakers develop a disaster plan for collections of all sizes. A useful online disaster planning template is available at dPlan™: The Online Disaster-Planning Tool for Cultural and Civic Institutions.

Preservation information provided by the Texas State Library and Archives Commission is intended only as a general guideline for collections care. The Texas State Library and Archives Commission is not responsible for any damage that might occur in the specific application of this information.

Page last modified: December 10, 2018