What Happens When Books Freeze?

This Polar Vortex and our current “arctic” temperatures have gotten me thinking…  What happens when books freeze?  Is it damaging to the paper? Does the extreme cold cause deterioration? Or are there hidden possibilities to be found there….?

After a bit of research, I discovered that freezing is a common method of preservation after a water disaster and can actually be effective for recovering wet books and paper records.  Freezing water-damaged materials prevents (further) mold growth and also inhibits additional water absorption into the paper. (For the record, it can also eradicate insects – should you have that sort of dilemma!)

Freezing can be used as a temporary solution to preserve materials while deciding how to ultimately salvage, treat or replace the damaged collection.  Or items left in freezing conditions will eventually dry on their own, if left indefinitely, but this is not a particularly efficient method since it takes several months to a year to thoroughly dehydrate.

While water-damaged materials will always exhibit signs of their trauma, freezing can vastly prolong their “shelf-life” (how’s that for a librarian joke?) and save them from untimely ruin.

Now you know… I hope you never need to employ these techniques in your own Library; but if you do, I found these resources particularly helpful in researching and writing this post.

http://www.nedcc.org/free-resources/preservation-leaflets/3.-emergency-management/3.12-freezing-and-drying-wet-books-and-records

http://www.lib.umich.edu/files/services/preservation/wetbooks-1.pdf

http://www.lib.msu.edu/preservation/wetbooks.jsp

-Sara Thomas (Head Librarian, Miles & Stockbridge PC)

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