In what has become a tale of two cities, the nearly
8,500 recently water-damaged historic books from the
George Peabody Library continue their restoration
process in an upstate New York facility, while back in
Baltimore the Mount Vernon Place library itself is
undergoing a large-scale dehumidification procedure in an
effort to "stabilize" the environment.
The book damage resulted from a blocked drain in an
air conditioning system that caused a dispersion of
condensed water across the ceiling and down through five
floors of the library earlier this month. From the sixth
floor to the second floor, the stacks of tightly packed
books on the eastern side of the library were subjected to
a "slow and steady trickling of water" for what is
speculated to have been a two-day period, according to
Sonja Jordan, director of preservation for the
Libraries, which encompass the Milton S. Eisenhower
Library and its collections at the Albert D. Hutzler
Reading Room in Gilman Hall, the John Work Garrett Library
at Evergreen House and the George Peabody Library at Mt.
Library maintenance staff uncovered the accident in
the early morning of Aug. 4. The library has been closed
for renovations since June 2002 and is scheduled to be
reopened in February 2004.
Once the source of the water seepage was identified,
university staff moved quickly to assess the extent of the
damage and to save the books from further harm. Jordan said
that most of the visible damage was to the books' spines
and tails because some of the water had puddled on the
shelves, causing it to be wicked up from the bottom of the
Document Reprocessors, a book and document restoration
company in Middlesex, N.Y., was contacted and quickly
dispatched two freezer trucks to Baltimore. The damaged
volumes were packed into boxes, shrink-wrapped and loaded
onto the trucks for overnight delivery to the company's
treatment facility, which is near Rochester.
The damaged books include works from the 17th to 19th
centuries, including titles such as the 11-volume Works
of Hannah Moore (1853), an 18th-century two-volume set
of The Greek New Testament and a first edition of
James Baldwin's The Book-Lover: A Guide to the Best
Currently, the distressed books are being stored in a
large freezer. On Aug. 14, when the power went out in the
Rochester region, the books were not impacted because the
freezers operate on diesel fuel for just such an emergency.
In an attempt to mitigate most of the water damage,
they will next be subjected to vacuum freeze-drying, a
controlled and patented method of sublimation that prevents
the physical distortions associated with air drying.
Jordan said that the drying process is anticipated to
take a couple of weeks, and she expects that all of the
affected books will be usable for scholarly purposes once
again, although some books will show signs of water damage
and be downgraded in collector's value.
Due to the volume of books damaged, however, Jordan
said it is hard to know precisely when the books will
"Because we want to be able to return them to the
shelf exactly as they were pulled, we will wait until the
freeze-drying process is done for all 8,000-plus volumes,"
said Jordan, adding that the books were packed in the same
order as they rested on the stacks. "All I can say for
certain is that we'll bring them home as soon as we
The Timonium, Md., disaster restoration firm PBI,
formerly known as Popowski Bros., last week began work to
remove the ambient humidity from the library by pumping in
warm, dry air through massive hoses.
"We have to do this; otherwise you get mold growth and
a variety of other problems," Jordan said. "Once we removed
the items at risk, our goal was to bring the environment
back to a stable condition, and that is what [PBI is] doing
now. They are lowering the relative humidity, which was in
the upper 60s but now is in the low 50s. For a mixed
collection of book types such as this, we are looking to
achieve a temperature between 68 and 72 degrees and a
relative humidity from 35 to 50 percent."
Jordan said her staff have performed random sample
tests on the rest of the library's collection, and those
books, she said, are "all responding beautifully."
Jordan, who joined Johns Hopkins on July 1, said it's
been a very eventful beginning to her second month of work.
Once word of the accident appeared in her friends' and
family's local papers, Jordan said she began to get flooded
"They all said, 'Welcome aboard. We're glad you were
there,' " said Jordan, whose 18-year professional career
includes being head of special collections and preservation
at the Chicago Public Library and at the University of Notre
Jordan said that the Johns Hopkins staff's handling of
the event was a text-book response.
"Given that no accident is a happy situation,
considering what could have happened, I'm extremely happy
and feel fortunate that the water damage sustained was not
larger, because it easily could have been," she said. "All
the necessary departments, units and individuals worked
together very well to bring all the parts together and deal
with this incident in a timely, efficient fashion. I don't
think there was any lost time at all. I'm very happy with
the response; it allowed us to grow and practice what we
The Peabody Library was founded in 1857 by
philanthropist George Peabody and has been part of the
Milton S. Eisenhower Library since 1982. Renowned for its
architectural interior, the library has an atrium-style
reading room with five tiers of ornamental cast-iron
balconies that rise dramatically to the skylight 61 feet
above the floor. Its noncirculating collection contains
approximately 300,000 volumes, most of which date from the
18th to the early 20th centuries.
Maintaining the provisions of Peabody's original gift,
the library is open to the public.