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The newspaper of The Johns Hopkins University February 2, 2004 | Vol. 33 No. 20
Rescue Accomplished: 8,000 Books Return to George Peabody Library


Vacuum freeze-drying used to minimize water damage from backed-up drainpipe

By Glenn Small

Some 8,000 books that had been damaged by water last summer at the university's George Peabody Library have been vacuum freeze-dried and returned to the stacks. Library staff and workers from the New York company that dried out the books spent several days last week carefully unloading the 1,634 boxes of books and placing the volumes precisely where they had been removed last summer.

Sonja Jordan, director of preservation for the Johns Hopkins Sheridan Libraries, oversaw the book homecoming and said the process went extremely smoothly. The book reunion took place in spite of snow and ice.

"We are very pleased with the results of vacuum freeze-drying the books," Jordan said. "All volumes responded well to the process. Considering what they went through, they have come back in great condition, flat, intact and with only negligible signs of water lines on pages or covers. We were lucky."

The books suffered varying degrees of water damage in early August after an air-conditioning drainpipe backed up, causing water to leak into the library stacks. The leak was discovered on Monday, Aug. 4, and apparently had happened over the weekend. Jordan, reacting swiftly, contracted with Document Reprocessors, which brought in several freezer trucks to quickly stabilize the wet books.

Over the past several months, the firm used a patented vacuum freeze-drying process to safely remove excess moisture. The process was also used on the more delicate leather bindings in order to prevent warping.

According to Quintin Schwartz, general manager for Document Reprocessors, books are frozen to remove excess moisture through a process called sublimation, which allows a solid to change directly to a gas without becoming a liquid.

The library has been closed since June 2002 for renovations. It is scheduled to reopen in May.

The George Peabody Library, which has been described as a "cathedral of books," opened in 1878. Reflecting the scholarly interests of the 19th century, the collection numbers more than 300,000 volumes, most of which date from the 17th to the early 20th centuries.

Renowned for its striking architectural interior, the library's Stack Room consists of five tiers of ornamental cast-iron balconies, which rise dramatically to the skylight 61 feet above the floor.

The George Peabody Library is part of the Sheridan Libraries at Johns Hopkins University and, in accordance with the provisions of Peabody's original gift, is open to the public.


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