Disaster Management Plan - Salvage Procedures

Staff Considerations

Salvage of damaged materials is not possible without a substantial contribution of staff time. The following precautions should be observed when recruiting and training salvage volunteers:

  • Staff with mold sensitivity should not volunteer for salvage work.

  • Salvage work involves moving full book trucks and lifting boxes as well as less strenuous tasks. Wet materials are much heavier than dry ones. Volunteers should be assigned to activities appropriate to their physical capacity.

  • Salvage work may take place in wet, dirty, and cold surroundings. Volunteers should be instructed to dress accordingly.

  • Food and drink should be provided for volunteers, if possible. Volunteers should also be encouraged to take breaks as needed rather than working to the point of exhaustion.

  • Volunteers should be kept informed about the progress of the salvage effort so that they will feel assured that their efforts are meaningful.

Salvage Procedures

In any major disaster some damage and loss is inevitable. The goal of a salvage operation is to preserve the collection overall. Salvage workers must resist the tendency to spend too much time on single items or particular formats at the expense of the collection as a whole. It is also important to avoid causing further damage during the salvage process by practicing proper techniques and careful handling. 

The following procedures provide basic instructions for recovery of most formats held by the Libraries. However, for any rare or valuable items, the advice of a conservator should be sought. 

Salvage Procedures for Books: Water Damage

Unless it is possible to work within the damage area, wet books must be moved to a space where they can be treated. If book trucks cannot be maneuvered in the damage area, a human chain may be the best way to move the books. 

Books to be frozen should be separated from those to be air-dried. Depending on conditions, this can be done as they are first removed from the shelves or later in the treatment area. 

Start with the wettest items. These will usually be found on the bottom or top shelves, depending on the source of the water damage. However, if any books are actually submerged in water, do not remove them until they can be dealt with immediately. Mold grows faster in air than in water. 

Make sure that all materials with any degree of wetness have been removed. Closely examine books on the periphery of the damage area; shelves can feel dry even when the books on them have absorbed and retained much moisture. 

Wet books are extremely fragile and must be handled with great care. Do not attempt to open closed books or force open books shut; transport them carefully as is. 

It is best to transport books lying flat in single layers. Books piled on top of each other or left side by side may warp and/or stick together. Books should also be left flat while waiting for treatment. 

Extremely dirty books or those exposed to contaminants should be washed off. This applies to covers only, not to inside pages. Hold the volume tightly closed under clean, gently running water. If time allows, use a sponge to dab off dirt, but do not rub, as this will merely force the dirt deeper. Do not wash volumes that have swollen open or ones that have leather or parchment bindings 

Keep a record by call number of every item removed from the shelf and its intended destination or treatment method. 


Freezing is essential in order to salvage: 

  1. Extremely wet books, unless they are few enough in number to receive prompt and intensive treatment

  2. Books in which mold growth is already evident

  3. Books with coated paper, whose pages will fuse together permanently if they are allowed to dry unattended  

Books will permanently retain the shape in which they enter the freezer; therefore, gentle shaping before packing is beneficial if time permits. Books with severe problems (swollen open, torn covers or pages, books stuck together) should be packed and frozen as is. 

Each book should be wrapped in freezer paper to prevent it from sticking to its neighbors. 

Plastic milk crates are best for packing materials to be frozen. They are sturdy, waterproof, and stackable. If plastic crates are unavailable, cardboard boxes lined with plastic bags may be used. 

Pack books in a single layer with spines down. If the number of boxes is insufficient for this method, books may also be packed flat in multiple layers as long as large books are never placed on top of smaller ones. NEVER pack books in the upright shelf position or with the foredge down. Any distortions created by books crushing each other will become permanent. 


Set up work tables covered with blotting paper or layers of paper towels. Floor space may also be used if it is clean and dry. 

Position fans to keep air circulating constantly throughout the area, but do not aim them directly at books if the force of air is strong enough to do further damage. Keep temperature and humidity as low as possible. 

Damp books should be set upright and fanned open. 

Wet books should be interleaved. Place a clean paper towel or sheet of unprinted newsprint between the pages at twenty page intervals. Set interleaved books upright and fan them open. Check the interleaving frequently and remove it as soon as it becomes wet, inserting new sheets at different twenty page intervals. Turn the books on their opposite ends (upright or upside down) each time the interleaving is changed. Also change the paper underneath when it becomes wet. When interleaving paper no longer becomes wet but merely damp, it no longer needs to be changed. Do not reuse interleaving paper, as it can transmit mold. 

Use bookends, blocks, or other drying books to support books in the upright position. Do not allow them to sag or warp, as these distortions will become permanent. 

Small items such as pamphlets and unbound magazines may be hung to dry on nylon monofilament fishing line (1/32"diameter). 

Be prepared for drying to take anywhere from a few hours to several weeks to be completed, depending on the wetness of the books and the atmospheric conditions. 

Salvage Procedures for Books: Fire Damage

In addition to burning books, fire can cause indirect damage through heat, smoke, soot, and water, and can affect books far removed from any actual flames. 

Books with heavy damage must probably be withdrawn, but consult a conservator to make sure salvage is not possible. 

Books with charred edges only can often be trimmed and rebound. Rebinding is also an option for books with sooty covers. 

Smoke odor can be lessened by exposure to rapidly circulating air. 

Salvage Procedures for Flat Paper (manuscripts, typescripts, office files, etc.)

Wet items may be air-dried immediately or frozen and air-dried later when staff and space become available. Freezing should be undertaken if: 

  • The number of wet items is too large for them to receive attention within 48 hours.

  • Any mold growth is evident.

  • Items are printed on coated paper and can't be treated immediately. If coated pages are allowed to dry without      treatment they will stick together, causing irreparable damage.

  • Inks appear to be running or bleeding.  

Items to be frozen do not need to be removed from boxes or folders if it is easier to transport them en masse. 

Air-dry flat items in the same environment used to air-dry wet books: clean, cool, dry, with constant air circulation. 

Lay pages on a clean flat surface covered with paper towels. Drying in single layers is best, but if space is insufficient, pages may be interleaved with polyester web (e.g. Reemay) and blotter paper and dried in small stacks. 

Extremely wet pages or those with wet coated paper may stick together. Do not attempt to separate them by hand since they are very vulnerable to tearing. Use the following method instead: Place a piece of polyester film (e.g. Mylar) on the stack of papers (moistening it slightly beforehand may help) and rub it gently down on the top page. Carefully lift and roll back the film and the top sheet should peel off with it. Place the sheet film side down on a flat surface and cover it with polyester web and blotting paper, pressing gently to remove moisture. Turn the "sandwich" upside down and very carefully peel off the film, replacing it with more web and blotting paper. An alternative to this method is to hang the film and wet page on a clothesline. As the page dries it will separate from the film on its own. 

Dried pages may be pressed between weights, but some permanent wrinkling is likely. Such pages will take up more room on the shelf than they previously did. 

Salvage Procedures for Microforms

Consider replacing microforms rather than attempting to salvage them. If replacements are available, this will probably be the more cost-effective solution. 

Check microfilm rolls to determine how wet they are. Because film is tightly wound and stored in boxes, it may not be significantly wet, especially in the interior. 

If mud or other debris is visible, microfilm and microfiche may be rinsed in cool, clean water. 

Microfilm that is thoroughly wet will fuse together as it dries. To prevent this, keep it wet and send it as soon as possible to a film lab to be reprocessed. Reels should be placed in a large plastic container such as a garbage can and covered with cold clean water, preferable distilled. The low water temperature (65 degrees or lower) helps to keep the emulsion from separating. Ice (NOT dry ice) may be added to keep the temperature down. Film may be stored up to three days in this manner. 

It is also possible to unwind and air-dry microfilm on clotheslines, but scratches and water spots are likely to result. This alternative should be chosen only if reprocessing is not an option. 

Salvage of microfiche can be even more costly than microfilm since each piece must be treated individually. As with microfilm,microfiche to be reprocessed should be kept wet. Microfiche may also be removed from storage envelopes, separated, and air-dried. 

Salvage Procedures for Photographic Materials

Salvage of photographic materials is complicated by the fact that there have been many different photographic processes employed since the invention of photography. A recovery procedure that saves one type of photograph may ruin another. For this reason a photograph conservator should be consulted if salvage of photographic materials is undertaken. 

All photographic materials are very vulnerable to water damage and require immediate action if they are to be saved. Collodion wet plate negatives, ambrotypes, pannotypes, and tintypes should receive first attention. Beyond these categories, prints in general should be treated before negatives, and color material before black-and-white, assuming all are of equal research value. 

Photographs and negatives of any type should never be allowed to dry with their emulsion in contact with any other surface, including other photographs, because it will adhere to that surface and be impossible to remove without irreparable damage. 

Dirty items may be rinsed in clean, cool water and dabbed off with blotting paper or soft cloth. Do not rinse or dry off any item showing signs of emulsion deterioration such as bubbling, separation, or image loss. 

Air-drying is the preferred salvage method for all photographic materials. Items should be separated and placed emulsion side up on clean, lint-free cloth or blotting paper. Do not touch wet emulsions. Cased photographs should be carefully separated from frame and mat and laid flat to dry. Small weights may be placed at the corners of drying items to limit curling, and photographs that do curl up can often be flattened again after they dry. 

Photographs waiting to be separated and air-dried should be kept damp by sealing them in plastic bags and immersing the bags in cold water. If not all items can be treated within 48 hours, they should be frozen and air-dried later. 

Any items that have already stuck together should be frozen as is before they have a chance to dry. Do not attempt to separate them at this point. 

Items to be frozen can remain in the same plastic bags used to keep them damp. Each bag should contain no more material than can be air-dried in one batch when thawed. Freeze-drying should be undertaken only as a last resort because it can cause further damage. Vacuum-drying should not be considered at all. 

Salvage Procedures for Magnetic and Electronic Materials

Hard Drives: Staff in CHIPS will remove hard drives and attempt to recover data on a prioritized basis; they may also decide that this work should be contracted out to a firm specializing in data recovery. 

CDs and LPs: These materials will not be harmed by clean water. If they have been exposed to dirty water they should be rinsed in clean water and dried with a soft, lint-free cloth. Record jackets and paper material accompanying CDs should be photocopied if the information they contain is valuable, and the originals discarded so that they will not harbor moisture and mold. 

Tapes (audio, video, and computer) and floppy discs: These materials should be replaced rather than salvaged, if possible. If salvage is necessary, the following procedures may be used: 

Floppy discs: Floppy discs that are merely damp can be dried with a hair-dryer set on air only. Wet floppy discs must be carefully cut out of their enclosures, rinsed, air-dried, placed in replacement enclosures, and copied. If treatment is delayed discs should be kept wet in cold, clean water. If there are many discs to be salvaged, an expendable disc drive should be used for copying since it may be damaged in the process. 

Tapes: Do not attempt to play water-damaged tapes before carrying out the procedures below. Playing a wet or dirty tape can be harmful to the playing equipment as well as to the tape itself. 

If the tape is still wet, submerge the entire cassette in running water to clean it, but do not re-wet the tape if it has already begun to dry. 

Leave the tape in its cassette for the drying process. This will prevent further damage to the tape and avoid the necessity of reassembling the cassette. Air-dry the tape by setting fans to blow constantly but indirectly over it. Wet tapes can take ten days or more to dry thoroughly. Tapes that have been exposed to dirty water should be gently vacuumed to remove any loose particles. Note any areas of dirt accumulation. 

The final step is to transfer the information on the damaged tape to a new tape. Place the damaged tape in the VCR or tape deck, fast-forward to the end, and rewind to the beginning to ensure proper tape tension and release any tape areas that may have stuck together. Record the information from the damaged tape to the new one, skipping any sections, especially at the beginning, that may hold accumulated dirt. Manually forward the tape past any dirty sections by at least one foot to minimize the amount of dirt coming in contact with the recording heads. 

Post-Emergency Activities  

Thoroughly clean the damage area with detergents and a fungicide. Ceilings, floors, and walls should be cleaned in addition to shelving, furniture, and equipment. Carpet can serve as fertile soil for mold, so consider replacing it. 

Materials that have been dried after water damage will never look like new again. Some may require further treatment, such as rebinding. These materials will also take up more space on the shelf due to permanent swelling. Water-damaged materials should be checked frequently for up to a year after the disaster because they will be especially susceptible to mold outbreaks.

Disaster supplies should be inventoried and replenished. 

The disaster plan should be reviewed in light of the real experience of disaster and revised accordingly.