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University of Iowa preservation librarians just bought some time as they work to recover approximately 2,400 art books soaked by a broken sprinkler

Flooded books drying out

Brian Morelli
Iowa City Press-Citizen

University of Iowa preservation librarians just bought some time as they work to recover approximately 2,400 art books soaked by a broken sprinkler.

Those books were being stored in freezer trucks UI rented at a rate of $75 per day, preservation department head Nancy Kraft said. UI found freezer space in Macbride Hall and UI procured a new freeze dryer, easing the demand on Kraft’s staff.

“For me it is a relief. I don’t feel like the clock is ticking away,” Kraft said.

The damaged books are being stored frozen until preservation staff can load them into the new freeze dryer. The $40,000 freeze dryer was a gift from Friends of the UI Library, and came just in the nick of time as an old freeze dryer broke down.

The dryer fits about 200 books at a time, although because the art books are large it will more likely fit about 100 at a time, Kraft said.

The freeze dryer is far less labor intensive for staff, Kraft said. The alternative was to ship them to a service out of state or to hand dry by laying sheets of paper between each page of each book and replacing the paper as it becomes saturated.

The damaged books are put in the deep freezer and frozen at about minus 50 degrees the first day. A defrosting and drying process begins the following day and can take two to four weeks, Kraft said. The freeze dryer temperature is kept at 10 to 20 degrees with leads monitoring each book, while fans blow to help the drying process.

“That is going to help wick them out quicker,” Kraft said.

After the freeze dryer, the books go to the book repair department. Susan Hansen, who is head of the department, and her staff go book-by-book, page-by-page through the collection. They assess each book and if the repairs are simple — two hours or less — they do the work.

“Our goal is to get the books back on the shelf,” Hansen said.

About 5 percent of the collection, Kraft and Hansen estimate, will be set aside for more time-consuming conservation work. Staff could spend one week to a month on each book, washing the pages, rebuilding a book container or restitching the binding, for example.

About 400 of the 2,400 books have been repaired, Kraft said. She expects the whole recovery process to take up to six months.

So far, every book has been salvageable, but the staff hasn’t seen the books that were rescued last, Kraft said. Previously, Kraft said UI may lose 10 percent of its collection.

“Last packed are most at risk,” she said.

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