Friday, July 25, 2008

Bad weather and preservation

The message below has circulated around New York State, where we have received very heavy rains this week. Some areas have had too much water, which then finds its way indoors. The message, however, does not cover computer equipment, which can contain valuable information including digitized materials. For help on what to do with computer equipment, check here and here. Recognize that the most important thing to do with computer equipment is to prevent it from receiving storm damage.
Heavy rains this summer have impacted many parts of New York State. The New York State Library sincerely hopes that local libraries and cultural organizations are not impacted.

In the event that a library or other cultural organization must deal with water damaged material, state may wish to visit the New York State Library's Division of Library Development's web page for advice and a listing of helpful resources at:

For information and updates on flooding, please visit the Office of the State Emergency Management (SEMO) website at:

If your institution does suffer water damage, please let the State Library know by emailing Barbara Lilley, Conservation/Preservation Program Officer, Division of Library Development, New York state Library at or 518-486-4864.

Below are tips for dealing with water damage from the Heritage Emergency National Task Force.

Save Your Treasures the Right Way

If you're careful, you can halt further damage

Hurricanes and floods threaten not only homes, but treasured possessions: family heirlooms, photos, and other keepsakes. Even if they are completely soaked, they can probably still be saved if they are not contaminated with sewage or chemicals. The Heritage Emergency National Task Force, a coalition of 41 national organizations and federal agencies including FEMA, offers these basic guidelines:
  • Safety first! With any disaster there may be health risks. Wear plastic or rubber gloves during cleanup. If there is mold, wear protective gear-surgical mask or respirator, goggles, and coveralls.
  • Prevent mold. Mold can form within 48 hours, so you will need to work fast. The goal is to reduce the humidity and temperature around your treasures as you proceed to clean and dry them.
  • Air-dry. Gentle air-drying is best for all your treasured belongings-indoors, if possible. Do not use hair dryers, irons, ovens, and prolonged exposure to sunlight-they will do irreversible damage. Increase good indoor airflow with fans, open windows, air conditioners, and dehumidifiers.
  • Handle with care. Use great caution in handling your heirlooms, which can be especially fragile when wet. Separate damp materials: remove the contents from drawers; take photographs out of damp albums; remove paintings and prints from frames; place white paper towels between the pages of wet books.
  • Clean gently. Loosen dirt and debris on fragile objects gently with soft brushes and cloths. Avoid rubbing, which can grind in dirt.
  • Salvage photos. Clean photographs by rinsing them carefully in clean water. Air-dry photos on a plastic screen or paper towel, or by hanging them by the corner with plastic clothespins. Do not let the image come into contact with other surfaces as it dries.
  • Prioritize. You may not be able to save everything, so focus on what's most important to you, whether for historic, monetary, or sentimental reasons.
  • Can't do it all? Damp objects and items that cannot be dealt with immediately should be put in open, unsealed boxes or bags. Photos, papers, books, and textiles should be frozen if you can't get them dry within 48 hours.
  • Call in a pro. If a precious item is badly damaged, a conservator may be able to help. Be sure to collect broken pieces. Set your treasure aside in a well-ventilated room until you find professional help. To locate a conservator, contact the Guide to Conservation Services, American Institute for Conservation, (202) 452-9545,
These recommendations are intended as guidance only. Neither the Heritage Emergency National Task Force nor its sponsors, Heritage Preservation and FEMA, assume responsibility or liability for treatment of damaged objects.

For reliable online information and links to professional conservation resources, see

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