Document Recovery – Restoring Water Damaged Books

Museums, libraries, and schools across the United States are continually researching new and effective ways to prevent water damage to ensure the longevity of rare and precious books and documents. Rare book rooms are commonplace in many major libraries and some museums and organizations are home to the most valuable, important pieces of literary history. Places like the American Bible Society’s Rare Book and the Rare Book & Special Collections division of the Library of Congress house some of the most highly-valued first-edition books from throughout American history. It is vital for future generations that these collections are protected against water or mold damage.

Just as these rare books are important to posterity, each homeowner also keeps items they consider precious for their future family members. Things like family photo albums, family bibles and other books and documents could fall prey to water or mold damage if not properly stored or cleaned. There are things to consider when assessing the ability to salvage water damaged books as well as various methods for doing so.

The Extent of Water Damage

Water or mold damage, unfortunately can strike even the most prepared institutions. Broken plumbing pipes, natural disasters or broken ventilation systems can all lead to damaged books. Museums, libraries and schools try to understand the different types of drying techniques and how they affect certain composite materials in order to best save water damaged books when these problems happen. Water absorption depends on the age, condition, and material of the paper that has been damaged. Books published before 1840 will generally absorb much more water than currently printed books, therefore running a much higher risk of experiencing swelling or mold damage. Leather bound books of the 15 through 17 centuries can usually be restored using extremely controlled procedures. However, modern books typically use badly processed leather which makes water damage restoration nearly impossible.

Professional recovery service providers are the best at determining the precise extent of water damage your books have sustained and what drying technique is most appropriate. You can reduce the risk of permanent damage to a book collection, however, by taking a few steps immediately after the damage has been found.


Humidity is one of the main sources of book mold or water damage. It is important to keep your archives in a very cool, dry place to reduce the likelihood of mold outbreaks. If damage has already set in, open windows and doors and set up as many fans in the affected area as possible. This creates air flow in the area and reduces the amount of humidity. De-humidifiers are also a good option. Never open water-damaged books or separate individual sheets of paper as this may cause further damage that can be irreparable.

Consider Restoration Professionals

For most books, especially those of extreme importance, the salvaging and drying process should be done using a professional service. Book restoration specialists use technologies and drying techniques that are much more effective and far less damaging than basic do-it-yourself techniques. Two techniques are widely used and very effective. The desiccant air dry distribution systems lowers humidity in the drying area, allowing more of the water trapped in the book or document to evaporate. The vacuum-freeze drying system distribute pressure evenly around the drying book, reducing warp, maintaining the original look and feel of the books or documents, and ensuring that future damage does not set in.

Most attempts by individuals to dry damaged books themselves will result in warped or ruined products. By employing book restoration experts, books can be better handled and more closely be returned in nearly new conditions.

Water and mold damage can affect both prepared and unprepared institutions and home owners. Taking the time to understand how the damage has effected important materials, especially precious books, and incorporating the aid of professionals will ensure these items will be restored for future generations.

~Ben Anton, 2008