Jason Church: This webinar is sponsored by the American Institute For Conservation, and the National Center for Preservation Technology and Training. This program is being recorded and will be available for future reference in a few days.
We have, I believe I heard 250 registered, so welcome everyone. We’re very excited to have you today. Our next webinar will be on the Wet Recovery of Taxidermy, and that will be on Thursday, June the 21st at 1:00 PM Eastern Time. We hope that all of you will join us for that.
Before we begin our presentation today, just a couple of quick tech notes. On your screen, you’ll see several boxes, including one that’s labeled Chat on the left hand side. You can use that chat box to say hello, and many of you are, and welcome. I see we have people from all over, so it’s very exciting. You could use that to ask questions, share information. If you post a question, I’ll keep track of that, and ask it to Karen, our presenter, at a good time.
At the bottom of your screen, you’ll also see a box labeled Web Links. You can click on the title, it’ll be highlighted in blue. If you look, the URL will appear in the Browse To, you can click on the Browse To, and it will take you directly to that site.
Today, I am very pleased to introduce you to our presenter, Karen Pavelka. Karen Pavelka is a senior lecturer for Preventative Conservation in the School of Information at the University of Texas at Austin. Before coming to the AIC school, she was head of the Paper Conservation Laboratory at the Henry Ransom Center. She served as Director for Education and Professional Development for the AIC for 2005 through 2011. She is a founding member of the AIC Collection Care Network, and serves as Program Chair.
Karen as taught and consulted at the National Library in Prague, the National Archives in Slovakia, the University of Buenos Aires, the Castillo de Vilassar de Dalt in Barcelona, Sun Yat-Sen University in the People’s Republic of China. She’s also a member of the National Heritage Responders. She has been deployed in several venues, including Texas, Haiti, and Puerto Rico. I had the fortune to work with Karen on her last deployment in San Juan.
Without further ado, I’d like to turn things over to Karen, so she can start on today’s wet recovery of book and paper.
Karen Pavelka: Hello, this webinar is intended for people with personal collections or small archival historic museum collections. It’s not intended for people with a lot of experience or people who have large institutions with well organized conservation departments and administrative staff.
I’m sort of assuming that the people I’m talking to don’t have any background in salvaging material, and don’t have a disaster plan in place, and don’t have any experience doing this sort of thing. Feel free to interrupt me whenever you like. I won’t be reading the questions, but Jason will, and he can interrupt me at any time. I’d rather that you understood what I’m saying.
I’ll try to talk like a human, rather than a conservator. If I throw out any terms that don’t make sense, please let me know right away. Excuse me.
I was talking to a friend last night and telling them that I was going to do this, and they said, “That’s not how you do webinars,” so I hope this works.
I’m going to start with some materials that I’ve gotten wet, a variety of different things. I have a lot of books and paper, and some other objects, and I have them in all sorts of states of disrepair and damage. I’ll start with the books, because they’re the most straightforward, in a lot of ways.
This is what happens. You come into a room where a pipe has burst, or someone has left a tap on, or there’s been a leak in the roof, or something happens, and all of a sudden you have a bunch of materials that have gotten wet, and you’re not expecting it. The first step, the first step always is completely counterintuitive, but it’s to do nothing, to do absolutely nothing. Take a couple of minutes to look things over, see what’s in front of you, and get yourself a little calm before you dive into this. Excuse me. Step back, assess what’s in front of you, and then when you have a good idea of what it is, go ahead and start working rationally, not in a frenzy.
Here, I have some books that have been soaking in a little bit of water for about 24 hours. They’re not too badly damaged. I’ll hold that one aside. These are both paperbacks, and you can see the water has soaked up to about here. They’re pretty wet on the bottom, but not completely soaked. What I’m going to do with them is to dry off the outside, and put them on a towel, and soak up any moisture that I can. I’m just going to do one. At which point, they’re probably going to be damp, rather than wet.
Then I’m going to start interleaving them. Right now, I’m using paper towels that I’ve torn into sheets. If you don’t have paper towels, you can use newsprint or something else. Paper towels are probably the best. I’m going to insert these every 10 to 20 pages if I can, if I have enough time and enough paper towels, or every quarter inch or so. I’m trying to give very practical information. Feel free to substitute materials. Feel free to make this work for you. You’re going to find lots of things that I’m not telling you, that you just happen to think up on your own. It’s very odd to be talking to someone and not getting any feedback. I apologize if I sound a little odd.
I’m going to go through and finish interleaving these. After I’ve done that, I’ll go ahead and stand the book up on edge. I’ll press it out a little bit more, and then stand it up on edge, and fan it out. Ideally, if I can put this somewhere where I have a fan or some sort of air circulation, or just good air flow coming through, that will help things dry out a lot more quickly. I don’t want to put them all in a corner where they’re not going to get any air circulation, where they probably won’t dry out.
After it’s sat like this for an hour or two, or whatever works with my working schedule, in this case, only the bottom of it is wet, so I’m going to either flip each of these towels over. Actually, I’m not going to do that, sorry. I’m going to move them up to the dry part, and have them sticking out the top. After I do that, assuming I’ve gotten them all through, I’m going to turn it around the other way. If it was drying from the bottom before, I’ll have it sitting on its head this time, just so that I can make sure it gets dried out overall.
Jason, did that make sense?
Jason Church: Absolutely.
Karen Pavelka: Okay. In this case, this is a pamphlet. It’s about the same level of dampness, but I can’t really stand this one up, because it’s too flimsy. It won’t let me do it. What I’ll do with this one is I might stick some more paper towels in between the leaves, and they’re probably going to fall out, but I’m going to stick them in at first. Then I’ll take it, and I have a clothesline behind me over here. Just take this in the center of the pamphlet, and again, try to fan out the leaves a little bit. I put it somewhere where I think it’s going to get a little bit of airflow and let it hang out that way. You might not want to do it outside. It might be too windy, but that’s going to depend on your situation.
Okay. If you have … This is another very common situation, where when I first put these books into the bin and put some water in the bottom, they were much more narrow than they are now, but they’ve soaked up a lot of water. Water has made them fan out and get a lot bigger. It’s going to be a little bit difficult to get these books out, because they’re really tightly wedged in there. You’re going to work, find the strongest part of the book. In this case, I’m going for the hardbacks. Then lift them out, and go through the same procedures. I’m not going to bother to go through interleaving all of these books, because you probably got it from the first one.
One point to make is, I think you can probably see how this book is bent out of shape. It’s winging out over here and over here, it’s coming up over here. It’s not shaped like a book anymore. If I let it dry in this configuration, it’s going to be forever in that configuration. What I need to do is shape it gently back into shape, and get it as close to a rectangular block as I can. After I’ve done that, you can see it’s a little more even now.
After I’ve done that, after I’ve gotten it back to be shaped as much like a book as I can, then in fact I can go through and start interleaving again. If I don’t do that, if I leave it curled up, this is a book on how to grow your own mold that we like for our disaster demos. It’s dry. It was very wet, and we intentionally, you can see it better this way, we intentionally curved all of the pages and let them dry like this. You can see, they’re going to stay like that. I mean you can get it wet again and get that curling out, but however you dry things, that’s the configuration they’re going to be in when they’re finally dried.
The same thing with this one, we intentionally dried it misshapen, so that you could see what happens, it’s completely misshapen. You can still read it. You can still leaf through and read the book, but it’s not very book like at this point.
On the other hand, these are two that we interleaved and dried, and they’re fine. I mean they’re a little bit distorted on the bottom, but they can go back on your shelf. They can be read. In fact, if you have them packed tightly on your shelf, over time, they’re going to flatten out and become even better than they were when you first dried them.
Jason, were there any questions about any of that?
Jason Church: No questions so far. I think everything’s going well. You could speak up a little bit, but I think so far everything is great.
Karen Pavelka: Okay. I didn’t put very many resources on the bottom of the screen for you, because this is a hands on demonstration. I didn’t do much about disaster planning. That’s been covered in lots of other places. There are three resources that are really useful to have around. One is this field guide to emergency response. This is available on the AIC website, and it gives excellent hands on information. At the same place, you can find this disaster wheel, and everyone should have a copy of this. It’s just quick, and fast, and easy to use. It gives you very good, solid, practical information. I gave you a link to this disaster salvage chart, on salvage at a glance, that was done by the Western Arts Alliance Collaborative, WAAC, W-A-A-C. I think it’s still available for free. All three of those are excellent resources.
I have another tray of stuff over here. I guess that’s the best camera angle for it. I’ve got some books and some videotapes and some paper. What you can’t see on camera, it just doesn’t come across on camera, is there are some pink, and blue, and yellow fragments floating around in the bottom there.
This is a much different situation than simply drying out a book. In this case, I don’t really know what I have in front of me right now. If that’s the case, it means safety becomes an issue. I don’t know that there’s not something strange in the bottom of this tray, that could in fact be harmful. A good indication is if you walk into a disaster situation and it really stinks, you probably want to put on gloves. For most books and paper, you’re probably okay without it. If you have any reservations about what you’re doing at all, wear personal protective equipment. I’ll go through that later, when I show you how to take mold off.
Again, this is where you’re going to stand back and do nothing, and just assess what’s in front of you. You’re going to go through and decide which things are the most valuable, which things you absolutely can’t live without, and you’re going to go through and decide, “Maybe I can throw that one away. Maybe that one doesn’t really matter to me.” That’s going to be individual for all of you. For anyone who has a disaster plan in place, you’ve already thought about that, but most people with personal collections haven’t.
This is a book, I’m going to put that aside because we’ve talked about books already. Now, I’ve got some paper documents that are very fragile, but don’t be afraid of it. This paper is completely saturated, and I can still pick it up and handle it. If I have stacks of paper like this, I’m going to pick it up and squeeze some of the moisture out, or put it down on a towel, and blot some of the moisture out. Then I’m going to lift it up again, and lay it out in a cool, dry place with air circulation. If I have enough space to separate these pieces of paper and lay them out one leaf at a time, I’ll do that, but you’re very rarely going to have that much space. It’s okay to go ahead and dry them in stacks of 10 or 20 leaves. If it has to be more than 10 or 20 leaves, go with it.
Wait, my … Sorry, my computer shut off for a minute.
Okay, in the tray, you can see I have some sort of photographs over here. I guess it’s hard to see that on camera, but in person it’s obvious that this is the back of photographs over here. These are CDs. This, I can tell, is a stereo card, and this is an envelope with some stuff in it. If it’s stuff in my personal collections, I probably have a pretty good idea of what it is and how important it is to me.
If I go back to my disaster wheel, it’s going to tell me that if I have CDs, I can just pull them out of the water, and I can rinse them off in clean water, and I can let them dry. I’m putting them down on this piece of paper with the media side up. This shiny plastic side doesn’t have the media, this flat side that might have a label or some writing or something on it, that in fact has all of your media encoded in it. At this point, it’s fairly fragile. I can show you that. This is not collection material. These are all things that have been discarded. If I take this and scrape it, you can see that I can scrape the data right of the disk, that’s why you want to dry it with this side up and the shiny side down. Don’t scrape your own materials like that.
Then I’m going to go through, and I’ve decided that this VCR tape is the next most important thing to me. It’s a VCR tape that’s in a cardboard box. If I can pull it out, in this case I can pull it out of the cardboard box, and it’s coming out just fine. I’m going to take the cardboard box and just blot it with a towel. Again, I’m going to stand it up and let it air dry or lay it on its side and let it air dry, and just put it in a place with good ventilation.
The VCR tape, you can look on the disaster wheel or salvage chart and see that they’ll tell you to rinse it with clean water, assuming you have clean water. It’s probably better to dip it in a bucket of the water and then let it drain. This one was pretty wet to begin with. Then just let it dry like that. If it’s not really, really wet, if it’s just a little bit damp, I’m not going to go ahead and dip it in a bucket of water, but this one was already saturated.
We’ve had pretty good success with these. We’ve done that and taken them out, and dried them like this, and actually gotten them to play again. It can’t be guaranteed that you’re going to have a success rate, but it’s a pretty good shot that you’re going to.
At this point, I’m going to get rid of all this stuff, and [inaudible 00:23:25] Again, none of this is collection material. This is all stuff that was being thrown out. If it were collection material, I wouldn’t be throwing it out like this.
Jason Church: Karen, this is Jason, I have one question for you. Would you recommend using paper towels for wet documents, like you did with the books?
Karen Pavelka: Yes. If I have paper towels, I’m going to use paper towels. If I don’t have paper towels, I’m going to use terrycloth towels, I’m going to use old sheets, I’m going to use newsprint. I would rather have newsprint that doesn’t have print on it. If newsprint with print on it is the only thing that I have, I’m going to go ahead and use that. I’m going to use anything that’s made out of cellulose, so that’s cotton, or paper. I’m not going to use polyester towels or nylon towels, because they’re not going to absorb any moisture, but anything that’s going to absorb moisture is going to be fine. I’d like it to be clean and white, but I’ll take what I can get in disaster situations.
Jason Church: Karen, before we move away from books, can you re-wet a misshapen book to straighten it back out?
Karen Pavelka: Yes, we can. I was going to get to that later, but we’ll do it now. I’ll show you.
I’ve got two more cases of books here, types of books. This one, it’s really hard to get a book this wet. This is really wet. I’ve had this thing soaking for four days. It took that long to get it this wet. It’s not often that you get books that are quite this wet. If you do, it’s just like the others, where you take it and put it down on a towel, and now you’re really going to have to work with it to get some moisture out of it, and I will get to the bent up book in just a minute, but these two were in together.
You’ll squeeze as much moisture out as you can. You can put it in between towels, with a weight on the top of it, until you can get it damp. You’re not going to have great success with a book like this. This is a big heavy book that’s completely saturated, and you can see how it’s misshapen up here. If I get it dry, it’s still going to be in a configuration like this. If I can replace this book, I will. If I absolutely have to dry it, I’ll go ahead, squeeze as much out of it as I can, until it gets damp. Then I’ll go ahead and interleave it.
If I can’t, if I have too many other things that I’m dealing with at one time, I’ll go ahead and take this book, and keep it as flat as I can. I don’t know that I tore that large enough. I’ll take a piece of wax paper, or parchment, or some other sort of interleaving paper, and wrap the book in it. I’ll stack it flat like that, with any other books, I’ll stack them all as flat as I can, and then I’ll freeze them. If they’re frozen, they’re stabilized, and that doesn’t really do a lot to dry them out, but what it does is buys me some time. Then I can go ahead and unfreeze it later.
This one, I intentionally crunched up before I got it wet. I’ll try not to drip water all over my computer. This one is intentionally crunched up, and you can see how the pages are folded in on each other. It’s a fairly fragile piece of paper, and if I try to separate it like this, I run the risk of tearing the paper.
This is better in a bigger bucket, but it’s harder to see on camera. If I take this paper and put it in a bucket of water, it allows me to … The paper becomes very, very flexible, and it allows me to open up those leaves, which you can’t really see because of the camera angle here. It allows me to open it up, and get it flat. This is an inset that I’m just going to take out. Then I can take this completely saturated pamphlet, while it’s really wet like this in fact, I can move the paper around and manipulate it.
Then, you take this, you put it down on a sheet of towel, or a blotter paper, or a newsprint, or whatever, and again, squeeze the moisture out of it. Keep working it until it’s damp, and then I can go ahead and either hang it on the line or interleave it. It’s too wet to interleave right now.
You’ll be able to plan your space a little more efficiently if you don’t have only this amount of space, because that’s what fits on camera. I’m a little limited. I’m also trying to not flood my computer, because our IT people will be really mad at me if I drown the computer.
Now, I’m onto the photographic materials. These are all snapshots. These, at this point, I can see that they’re envelopes with negatives sticking out of them, and this is a stereo card. At this point, I’m going to assume that they’re all of equal value, and I’m just going to go ahead and lift up the one that’s on top. Again, I want a towel or some blotter or something to work on for the table. I have this micro-spatula, it’s a tool that I really like, that works very, very well. If you don’t have one of those, you might have an artist’s palette knife, and they work really well, or you might have something that’s just pretty much like a table knife, and that’ll work fine as well.
I’m not going to be able, I’m going to make the decision to sacrifice this envelope. It’s got some information on the back of it, which is probably the people in the negatives, so I want to make sure that I keep that. I’m going to go ahead and carefully cut this envelope on the side. The reason I’m doing that is because the negatives are more important to me than the envelope. If you decide the envelope is more important to you, you might want to make a different decision.
If I’m looking at these negatives, I can now peel this back, and actually see what’s going on. This is not going to be captured on camera, but I can describe it to you. One side of the negative is going to be very, very shiny, and the other side is going to have a little bit more texture to it. The side with more texture to it is the emulsion side, and that’s the side that’s a lot more vulnerable. I’m going to work on this with the shiny side up. I’m going to deal with the shiny side here.
I’m going to peel this envelope away, and now I’m going to lift this negative out of the envelope, and put it down on the towel, with the emulsion side up. If I put it down on the towel with the emulsion side down, that very fragile emulsion is going to stick to the towel, and I’m going to lose it. If I dry it this way, you can have a lot of success.
I actually talked someone through doing this, she had about 400 of them over water and we couldn’t get to her. We actually talked her through it over the phone, and I think she had about a 90% success rate. These things are a lot more resilient than you think. One of the reasons I like talking to people about personal papers and small collections, is anytime you go through a disaster situation, in the aftermath of it you’ll see tons and tons and tons of things that were thrown away, that you know could have been saved, if someone had just taken a little bit of time. They didn’t have to get rid of all those photographs and all those documents. Take it slowly and think about it.
At this point, I’m going to be dealing with color materials, color photograph materials. At this point, I’m going to go ahead and put gloves on. You could argue that I should have had gloves on when I was treating the black and white photograph or negative, and it probably would have been good to have them on. You don’t always have gloves, and I don’t think it’s quite as big a deal when they’re wet. Here, it’s color materials, and I’m putting gloves on more for my own safety than what I think I’m going to do to the photographs themselves. The other thing you don’t get over video is these color materials get really stinky when they’re wet. If they’re stinky, they’re probably not good for me. They’re not that bad that I feel like I need to have a respirator on, but I don’t think I really want to be sticking my hands in those chemicals.
I’m going to take this group of photographs out as one unit. This is fairly typical. You see how this is white, all of the photographic emulsion is gone at this point, but this has been soaking in the bath for about four days, so I’m not really surprised. You can see that photographic emulsion is just completely coming off. That’s gone. There is nothing anyone can do about that photograph, it’s gone.
If I peel this away, the part that was covered up by another photograph is still there, and in fact is still intact. It’s really, really fragile at this point. If I pull these apart very carefully and let them dry on a towel like this, I’m going to let them dry face up with the image side up. You can see where they weren’t protected from anything, all of the emulsion is gone, but the image area where it was in contact with another photograph, it’s still there. The variation that you get in these situations is truly amazing. Sometimes you’ll get things that have no damage, and sometimes they’ll be completely gone. They would have appeared to be exactly the same thing at first, but they just act differently.
Again, go through slowly, and carefully, and save what you can. We had success in Wimberley with saving photographs that had been underwater for a month. That’s rare, that doesn’t often happen, but sometimes you’ll get lucky.
Jason, are there any questions about this? Get these out of the way.
Jason Church: No, nothing about photographs right now. I have some other questions that we’ll ask.
Karen Pavelka: Okay. I’m going to get rid of all this stuff, and go onto something else.
There’s another envelope of acetate negatives, but some came through just fine. I was hoping this one would completely melt. Sometimes they just completely melt, and there’s nothing you can do. These are stereo cards, and again, you can just lay these out, take as much moisture as you can. With photographs in general, don’t touch the photographic image, touch the back, let the front air dry. It might be a good idea to rinse them off if you have clean water, you might also lose them completely.
I had an audiotape in that, a cassette tape in that thing, and it’s just like the videotape. In fact, in this case, it doesn’t have very much water in it at all. I’m just going to dry it out flat, let it dry. It’ll probably be just fine. In fact, we actually burned some of these, we put a bunch of them through a fire, and then put the fire out with water, and we were able to save those, and they still played. I was surprised, but it worked.
Here’s another tray full of stuff. Actually, I want to show you a different thing first. Sorry.
This is very, very fragile newsprint that’s floating around in water. If I lift this up, normally it tears it. If I lift it up, it’s going to tear very, very easily, and I’m not going to be able to deal with it, but this is incredibly brittle and incredibly fragile paper. I’m going to make it even worse, just to show you that there’s a way to lift it out.
This is a piece of Hollytex It’s spun bound polyester. If I lift this out, if I just get it started adhering in the corner, it’s going to stick to the polyester. I can lift it out very safely that way, and I can lay it down on the table. I happened to use Hollytex spun bound polyester when I’m doing this, because I’m in a lab and I have a lot of it around. You can do the same thing with a pillowcase, or a dish towel, or anything else. It’s just when paper is really wet like that, it’ll stick to another surface.
We put one last thing in. In this case, I’m going to make the executive decision that this cigar catalog can get thrown away. However, now I’ve got manuscript material. This is modern paper. Again, I can pick it up if I work very, very gently. It’s a little distorted and wrinkled now. I can throw it back in that tray of water, and lift it out with a sheet of polyester and get it flat, if I want to do that.
If I put it down in this wrinkled configuration, it’s going to dry like that, and it’s going to be forever creased. I do want to put this back in a bath and flatten it out again.
Then you have things like this. Oh man. This is going to be a little hard to see on camera. There’s some writing over here, there was a whole bunch of writing over here, but it’s completely gone. There was a little bit of it still left yesterday when I took it out of the water, but it’s disappeared now. These inks, there were three different inks on this piece of paper, and before they were wet they all looked like exactly the same ink, but in fact, when you wet, they act a lot differently. One of them I just lost the information completely. Again, then you’re going to decide if it’s worth it to save this part of the information, or if you just want to discard the whole thing.
There’s a little bit of writing left here, the 724. If I take this piece of paper, it’s a little distorted and wrinkled, but if I take this and throw it back in the bath to flatten it out again, I’m going to lose those last couple of numbers. That’s up to you, whether or not you think that’s worth it.
Last wet object I’m going to show you is a painting. If the painting were in a frame, I would take it out of the frame, it’s not. It’s just on a strainer. I’m going to very carefully turn it over. I want to dry it face up on blocks. I don’t want to dry it face down. This painting has an interesting history. I found it in the trash one day, on the way to work. I think this is about the 12th disaster it’s been in. This is just acrylic on canvas. You can see sometimes they come through remarkably well. It has a lot of tide lines on its back, because this is about its 12th disaster exercise, but the paint layer is still in relatively good condition.
I want to put this up on blocks, dry it flat. I don’t think I want to blot moisture off the surface of that, because I don’t know enough about paintings, and frankly, it scares me. I might, if I’m feeling really, really brave, you can see there’s water puddles on the surface of this. If I’m feeling really, really brave, I might go in from the side, and use the least pressure I possibly can, and try to blot up some of the moisture. Painting’s can flake, and all sorts of things can happen to them. If I have the option, I’m more inclined to let it air dry, even though this one has been wet over and over and over again.
You’re not going to have blocks, you’re probably not going to have blocks, but you might have these plastic boxes. You might have bricks. You might have two pans or something, that you can turn over. Just try to put it up on something.
One thing, it’s really disheartening and upsetting when you come in and find that your collection is under water, and a large part of it is probably going to be destroyed. There are a couple of things to think about. It’s a natural inclination to think that you can go ahead and work for 12 hours straight without a break, because if you work for 12 hours straight you’re going to get more stuff done. Wrong. You need to take a break. You absolutely need to take a break. You need to make yourself take a break, make the people around you take a break. Have a glass of water, have a cup of coffee, have a cookie, and sit and rest for a while. If you’re working when you’re really tired, you’re going to do damage to the materials that you’re working on, and you’re going to hurt yourself. I can tell you that from experience, because I’ve worked way past when I should have been working time and time again. Don’t do it.
Jason, I’m going to move on to mold. I have to get some other stuff.
Jason Church: I have one quick question before we move on to mold.
Karen Pavelka: We’re moving on to mold, okay?
Jason Church: If you air dry photographs, even partially, can you re-wet them in order to aid in separation?
Karen Pavelka: Yes-ish. You risk catastrophic loss. You might be able to get away with it, you might not. Photographs are really funny beasts, and they do unpredictable things. I’ve done that experimentally, I’ve tried to re-wet them, and sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. I would consult a real photo conservator. I’m not a photo conservator. I’ve been thrown into dealing with this stuff after disasters, but the photos, I tend to want to keep what’s in front of me, rather than pushing it any further. You can try it, just recognize that you may lose it.
Jason Church: Sounds good, on to mold.
Karen Pavelka: Okay. I’m going to go on to how to deal with mold. I have a molding pamphlet over here. I’m not going to take that out yet. I’m going to set up a working space, and I’m going to put on personal protective equipment before I deal with this.
Mold is a huge problem in the South, because it’s warm and humid down here. It’s a problem other places as well. Not all molds are damaging. Not all molds are toxic or even allergens, but some of them are. You can’t test for every kind of mold that you have, so I just make the assumption that they’re all toxic, and I go ahead and assume that I need to use protection anytime I’m working with mold. The other thing is, the more you work with mold, the more sensitive you’re likely to become to it. You want to protect yourself.
The first thing I’m going to do is prepare a working surface. I’ve taken a piece of newsprint, or any other cheap paper, I’ve folded three sides of it, and I’m going to tape them together, so that I have a nice little tray here. All of the dirt and debris is going to be contained in this tray. Then, I am going to use what’s called a soot sponge to remove the mold. You can buy these things from conservation suppliers, you can buy them from pet stores, they’re called pet hair removal sponges. Makeup sponges can be very similar. It’s just a vulcanized rubber sponge, but they work really, really well for taking stuff off. The advantage is any mold and soot that I take off is going to be contained in these fragments of the sponge itself, and isn’t going to fly all over and get into the air, and I’m not going to breathe it in.
For personal protective equipment, I have a whole lot of it here for mold. The first thing I’m going to do is get rid of my hair, because it does nothing but get in the way. I’ll put that up in a rubber band. I’m going to put on a shirt, a big old shirt that I can button all the way up. I’m going to button this all the way. The next thing I’m going to do is to, this takes a minute, the next thing I’m going to do is to cover my hair. Going back to my Slavic roots here. This is the glamour part of the job.
After I do that, I’m going to put on something to filter out the mold. I have a couple of choices. What I use when I’m working in areas that have a whole lot of mold, is a half-mask respirator. These are great, I love working in these. They’re comfortable, they’re easy to wear when you’re used to them, but they do have to be fitted to your face, so it’s not likely people outside collections are going to have one. If they’re not properly fitted to your face, they’re not really very effective. I’m going to use this N-95 mask. I don’t know if that’s focusing. You do have to specify that it’s N, like Nancy, 95, and that way you know you’re going to be filtering out most things that are going to be harmful to you. I’ll show you how to put that on in a minute.
What you don’t want to use is one of these dust masks. These are totally useless, because they don’t fit to your face. They go over your nose and leave big gaps all over. If this is the only thing that you have, that you absolutely have to use this, go ahead and get surgical tape or some other tape, and tape it to your face. That way, at least it’ll be sealed to your face. It’s not comfortable, but it works.
After I have all this on, I’m going to go ahead and put the mask on, so I have to put that over my head. You do sort of run out of face landscape here. I’m going to take the bottom string and pull it up, and then the upper string, and pull it around the back of my head. I’m going to take two fingers and press this metal strip to my face, and conform it to my face as much as I can. Then I’m going to try to fit my glasses on. Then I’m going to put goggles on. Not pretty, but safe. Finally, I’m going to take gloves and put those on.
Now that I’m all suited up, I’m going to take my moldy pamphlet, I’ve had it sealed up in this envelope, plastic is better, but I’ve had it sealed up in this paper envelope, and I’m just going to do a very small demonstration, to show you how to take the mold off here. I’m going to open it up to an opening that has lots of nice mold staining.
I’m going to take my soot sponge, and I had scissors, but I can’t find them now, I’m going to cut off a piece of the soot sponge, the thinner ones are easier to cut. The reason I’m going to cut it into small fragments, is it’s going to be way more efficient and way more useful, because I have a lot of different surface areas exposed. If I use this one big block, then I’m just going to soil the entire soot sponge, and have to throw it away. Here, I can just use small pieces of it.
I think I’ll do it right here, because that’ll be easy to see. If you look on this side, where that finger is, you can see that it’s dark. There’s a lot of mold accretion on it. I’m going to take this sponge and work in gentle circles, working from the inside of the page to the outside of the page. The reason I’m working from the inside of the page to the outside of the page, is I’m likely to do it with less damage, doing it that way. You can see, I’ve got a lot of the mold on the sponge itself, and here, where my finger is pointing, you can see, I think you can see, on one side it’s white, and on the other side there’s still quite a bit of mold. You don’t always get all of the mold stain off with this, but you get a lot of it off. You don’t get the stain off, you get the mold off, so that it’s not going to circulate and get into the air, but you don’t get the stains off.
If I’ve completely cleaned that, then I’m going to put it into a good housing. Right now, I’m putting it back into its moldy pamphlet envelope. I’ll put it in a plastic bag later. Then I want to take off all of this equipment, and get rid of it.
The way I’m going to do it, I’m going to take my gloves off first, and turn them inside out. Anything that I’m going to discard, I’m going to put in here. I’ll take my goggles off and put them over to the side, I’ll wash those later. I’m going to take this mask off, and I can reuse this mask. In fact, the more I use it, the more this sort of gets clogged up, and it gets a little bit more efficient as you use it. I do tend to take it outside and brush it off a little bit, but I can reuse it. I’m going to take the scarf off. I’m going to take the shirt off and turn it inside out. With this stuff, I’ll turn this inside out, I’ll put this, I’ll wrap all of this stuff up together, and I’ll put it into a big plastic trash bag, until I can get it into the laundry. For right now, we’re just sticking it over there.
Then I’ll take this, and fold it up, and it’s all contained, and now I can throw it right in the trash. I’ll take the trash out right away, but there aren’t any special procedures that you need to follow for getting rid of mold. Then, lastly, I have a damp washcloth, I’ll wash my glasses, and I’ll use that just to wipe off my face and neck, and arms, and anything I think might have gotten exposed to the mold. Any questions about that?
Jason Church: One question that came up about the sponges, after you use them, could they be washed and reused? The sponges you were just using …
Karen Pavelka: I couldn’t hear you, sorry.
Jason Church: Do they come apart when you’re using them, or could they be washed and reused?
Karen Pavelka: I do sometimes wash them and reuse them, because I’m cheap. If I have a HEPA-vac I’ll use that to clean them out, but yeah, they can be reused.
Jason Church: Another question that came up, can you talk a little bit about freeze drying of items, and also about unfreezing process? Like how long it takes for something to thaw before you would start working on it again?
Karen Pavelka: How long it takes to thaw, it depends on how big the book is. If it’s a thin pamphlet, it’s probably going to take seven hours to a day. If it’s a thick book, it’s probably going to take a couple of days, and you probably want to put it in a thermos and let it thaw gently that way. You just have to keep checking them. You’re probably going to be able to dry out the outside of the book before you get to the inside of the book. It’s something that you just have to play by feel.
I didn’t talk about freeze drying and I didn’t do that intentionally, because that’s not something that’s going to be available to personal collections, or for the most part for small institutions. If you want to have something freeze dried, you’re going to have to go through one of the vendors, Polygon, BMS, CAT, one of those places, and contract with them. It’s generally not worthwhile for two or three books. If you have a couple of hundred books, that’s probably worthwhile. Does that make sense?
Jason Church: I know a lot of webinar, a lot of information is about, “As soon as you can, freeze your stuff, so you can get to it later.” As you know and I know, that’s not practical for a lot of places that don’t have power afterwards. Can you talk a little bit about if that’s just not an option, how you would try to attack a larger collection when power’s not available?
Karen Pavelka: Yeah, the rule of thumb with mold … The reason you want to get things dried quickly is you want to avoid growing mold. The rule of thumb with mold is three days at 70% RH or above. That’s not strictly true. I had some paper in here all semester, I had it in the humidity chamber for 10 weeks before I got any mold. Sometimes you get it within 24 hours. You just don’t know. The rule of thumb is three days, so you want to get things as dry as you possibly can before that three day period.
Your options are to take your interleaving and keep changing it. If I have these things, if this part has gotten wet, you want to move to a dry part over there. If I’ve been using this paper towel, I can take this one and put it in the sun, and pull this one out, and put a dry place in. I’m just going to keep changing things as much as I can, and using ventilation as much as I can, and separating things as much as I can, introduce as much airflow, and I’m going to take my chances.
You can’t always freeze everything because you don’t have, as you said, you don’t always have electricity. All you can do is try to get it as dry as you can, as quickly as you can. I know that’s not a great answer, but that’s what you do.
Jason Church: Karen, thank you very much. We have filled up our hour. I think we’ve answered most questions. We really appreciate it. Hopefully, we will be hearing more from you in the future, and of course, this webinar will be available. All of the participants who registered, whether you weren’t able to make it today or not, the recording will be sent to everyone who registered. It’ll also be on the internet, so we look forward to being able to re-watch it and see any tips we might have missed.
Thank you everyone for joining us today. Especially thank you to Karen. We ask that you just take a few minutes now, before you log off, complete the free survey link on the screen. That’s actually at the bottom, to your right. It says Participation Evaluation. Also, there’s links below it. You can find out more information about FAIC and NCPTT if you want, but tune in for our next webinar. By all means, check out the survey evaluation, if you can. Thank you again.
Karen Pavelka: Thanks Jason.