University of Iowa: Broken sprinkler soaks art library

February 21, 2009
Brian Morelli
Iowa City Press-Citizen

The University of Iowa’s art collection can’t catch a break, particularly from water.

Last year, floodwater devastated UI’s art campus and forced the relocations of much of the art campus and art collection. Early Thursday morning, a frozen sprinkler head burst, soaking a collection of 2,400 art books in Art Building West.

“Things were pretty soaked,” said Nancy Kraft, a preservation librarian. “I am hoping for a 100 percent recovery, but typically in a situation like this we are probably going to lose 10 percent.”

Art Building West has remained closed since the 2008 flood except for crews working to reopen it and library workers retrieving items for library loans.

The wet collection is the large-book portion, which is kept in the building’s second floor library. The glossy “clay-coated” paged books in the collections can range in price from $40 to $400 or more, art librarian Rijn Templeton said.

Pinning an overall value on the books at this point is impossible, she said.

Library restoration staff was on the job about 9:15 a.m. Thursday and think they caught the leak within two to three hours, Kraft said.

Kraft estimates the restoration work could take one hour per book. UI has been charging area museums a discounted $60 an hour for recovery work on items damaged in the 2008 flood. Typically, restoration work can cost upward of $100 an hour.

Right now, many of the wet books are in freezer trucks, while some are splayed out so they can dry. Kraft said staff members now are working on 625 books. Those books are going to be “OK,” Kraft said.

UI has purchased a book freeze dryer, which cost $40,000, to aid in the restoration, Kraft said.

“What adds to the challenge of a wet book disaster is a huge percentage of art books have that glossy paper. If it gets wet and dries before we can separate the pages, it will dry as a brick,” Kraft said. “There is no technology out there to salvage those books.”

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