Posted on 8 January 2016
Our Conservation team are regularly faced with the challenges posed by water damage. While in some cases the damage to materials can be so severe it can’t be saved, the good news is that in our experience, the majority of books, papers and photographs can be salvaged from a flooded area.
Worn books at the library of Merton College, Oxford - Tom Murphy. CC BY-SA 3.0
It is important to start salvage and treatment as soon as possible, as the quicker this is begun the more straightforward the process will be; but sometimes these items are not the first priority in an emergency situation, and we are aware that you may be faced with material in various states of saturation and damage. Whatever the situation, please don’t worry – in the majority of cases there is something that can be done to help.
Our main recommendations, where space and resources allow,would be:
Items that are air-dried are likely to dry distorted rather than flat, and they may not appear as neat as they did before they were wet. The more frequently you are able to change the wet blotting material around your items for dry material, the quicker the moisture will be taken away. This can also help to reduce the amount of distortion that the item will suffer as it dries in the air.
Please remember at all times that wet material is generally more vulnerable than dry material, and you will need to handle these items with extra care. Please also remember that material that was affected by the flood water will still retain the contaminants of the flood water once the water has evaporated, and may still need to be treated by a conservator. It’s also worth remembering that the above recommendations are aimed at the survival of your material and further work by a Conservator may be needed to return the material to its pre-flood damaged condition.
Water damaged volume under treatment in Conservation
If you would like to know more, we recommend the British Library’s ‘Salvage’ booklet. This publication is aimed at library and archive collections, rather than potentially smaller, personal collections of material; however the principles behind the advice are the same for the materials in both contexts, and this will help you decide on what your first actions should be to help your possessions.
If you are at all concerned about any of your material please do get in touch, though without an in-depth assessment by a trained Conservation professional it is very difficult to offer specific guidance. We would always recommend seeking the advice of a trained Conservation professional if you are unsure.
If you would like further advice, we will be holding a drop-in advice session at York Explore (Marriott Room) on Friday 15th January from 3:00pm-6:00pm. Do come along and bring your flood damaged documents, books and photographs with you.