Montana State University

Once damaged by flooding, dried books return to MSU library

March 19, 2008 -- Anne Pettinger, MSU News

Renne Library circulation technicians Kathie Callahan, left, and Mary Swan transfer boxes of repaired books Monday from outside the library to a room where they'll be sorted for restocking. MSU photo by Kelly Gorham.   High-Res Available

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Tel: (406) 994-4571
Books that were damaged in a January flood at Montana State University's Renne Library returned to campus Monday after being dried through a freeze-drying process.

"We're very glad things are getting back to normal," said Brian Rossmann, associate dean of MSU Libraries.

The books were damaged Jan. 29 after a pipe burst on a bitterly cold morning, flooding the second floor of the library with about three inches of standing water. In just about 18 minutes that morning, approximately 11,800 gallons of water spewed into the building, Rossmann said, which also created a rain-like environment on the first floor.

It was the second burst pipe at Renne Library in a week, and both were caused by open vents that drew in outside air.

Thousands of materials were damaged in the flood, and, because of the large number of items, library officials quickly decided not to dry the materials themselves, said Victoria Heiduschke, a preservation specialist and MSU librarian.

Instead, they decided to send the materials to a facility in Texas. Among other disaster-relief services, books and documents are repaired at the facility through a freeze-drying process.

The first step in the process to repair MSU's materials was to load them into a semi-trailer with freezing capabilities.

"The first objective is to get everything that is wet frozen," Rossmann said, adding that there is a 72-hour window to do so before mold becomes an issue. "Freezing it buys time," he explained.

In all, 350 boxes of wet and damp materials, or about 8,000 items, were trucked to the facility in Texas, owned by BMS Catastrophe. Most of those materials were from the library's reference and government documents collections.

Once at the facility, the books went through what is referred to as vacuum freeze-drying, a process where the water molecules sublimate, or go from a frozen state to a gaseous state without going back to a liquid state. Once the water has sublimated, the vapor is then condensed in part of the chamber, and the liquid water is drawn off, Heiduschke explained.

To go through the vacuum freeze-drying process at the Texas facility, materials are put into a chamber with a temperature significantly lower than freezing, Heiduschke said. A vacuum is then drawn through the chamber, which holds materials together while helping to keep the books from warping and the paper from wrinkling.

The process works very well for most types of papers, Heiduschke said, and the materials that returned to Renne Library on Monday were expected to be in fine condition.

"Most of the materials coming back will be very usable," Rossmann said. "You may be able to tell something happened, but it should be very minimal."

The cost of the vacuum freeze-drying, paid for with state insurance money, was expected to be about $29,000, Rossmann said.

Even with the damaged books being carefully dried, the effects of flooding at Renne Library are ongoing.

The first burst pipe on Jan. 22 damaged approximately 245 items from the library's Special Collections, and restoration is expected to continue for months. Heiduschke is working to repair those damaged items herself, and hopes to have the task completed by the beginning of the fall semester.

To work on the damaged items from Special Collections, Heiduschke will humidify the materials, then put them in presses with blotter paper, which should flatten the paper and prevent warping. Some items will also require iron-like heat. The entire process for each item could take anywhere from six hours to two days, Heiduschke estimated.

In all, more than 90 percent of the damaged items from Special Collections were saved, she estimated, and Special Collections has re-opened after being temporarily closed because of the flood.

"It actually could have been a lot worse in Special Collections," Rossmann said. "We were lucky the architectural drawings and manuscript collections were unharmed."

And, though many people might not notice it as first glance, repairs to the building itself are still being completed.

"Workers are still painting and replacing baseboards," Rossmann said. "And we're not sure yet about replacing some carpet."

Also, the air in the building has been tested twice to look for mold, and everything has looked fine, Rossmann said. "We have no concerns about toxic amounts of mold," he said.

While the water damage has created a great deal of work for library workers, the flooding also demonstrated a committed, reliable staff.

"The staff of the library cannot be commended enough for what they did," Rossmann said. "People definitely performed beyond the call of duty."

Brian Rossmann, 994-5298 or