Saving Books from Bad Weather…and Takeaways

sandman_umbrella

When you’re a big reader, sooner or later you’re going to end up with a book that’s under threat of water damage. Often this can be caused by carrying books in a non-water-resistant bag and getting caught in a downpour. In Wellington, this is exacerbated by the fact that trying to use an umbrella is often just, well, futile.

The last time I “water” damaged a book, however, it wasn’t from rain. Rather, it was by resting a takeaway container full of pasta on the top of my shoulder bag. In retrospect, this wasn’t the smartest move but then, I also didn’t realize that whomever closed the container hadn’t sealed its lid properly. The cellphone in the bottom of my bag was one casualty, my copy of Sandman Volume II was another. I was fairly upset about the cellphone but, to be honest, it was due to be replaced. I was only about halfway through reading the graphic novel, however, so this was a bit more devastating. Fortunately, when I discovered the marinarastrophe I was with a friend who had worked part-time in a university library.  He knew the secret of drying damp books at home.  It’s your freezer.

Looking into it now, it seems as though most book conservators will tell you that freezing is, at best, a stop-gap measure to keep your wet books’ condition from worsening due to mould, etc. while you arrange a means of drying them. However, (according to both the Iowa Conservation and Preservation Consortium and the Preservation Division of the University of Michigan Library) when your books are damp, not saturated, using a frost-free freezer can be effective, if you’re willing to wait long enough. It’s a technique only practical for mild water damage, such as when one end of a book has been exposed to rain in the top of a bag, resulting in the ends of the pages going all wibbly-wobblyIn my case, once I put my Sandman in the freezer I got caught up in reading another series and forgot I’d left it there. A few months passed before I pulled it out again to discover that while the pages were still a bit wavy, they were dry, easy to turn, and colourfast. Since this incident I’ve been able to avoid any further takaway vs. book dilemmas, though I’ll admit, I’ve been known to spill the odd drop of coffee and get my fair share of crumbs falling down the crevasse where page meets binding. Haven’t all good readers?

Liz Gillett

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