Museum Handbook: Primer on Disaster Preparedness
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Orange Line Graphic
Orange Block Graphic AIR DRYING

Wet books, documents, or photographs which cannot be air dried within two days should be frozen to inhibit mold growth. Circu lating air will effectively dry most items. Physical distortions may result, but document information will be saved. To provide optimal air drying conditions, fans should be positioned for maximum air circulation (do not aim air flow directly at drying materials). Blotting material for air drying should be clean and absorbent. Options include: blotter paper, unprinted newsprint paper, paper towels, rags, mattress pads, etc. Screening materi al (such as window screens) well supported and stacked with space between them provide an excellent compact drying surface. The porous surface assists air circulation and promotes drying.

Without intervention glossy materials such as paperback book covers, magazines, art books, etc. are likely to stick together. If they are highly valued, these items should be the first priority for salvage. Loose glossy materials should be spread out in one layer for air drying. Bound glossy materials must be interleaved between every page to prevent sticking. Wax paper should be used as interleaving material. Volumes of glossy paper dried in this way may suffer considerable physical distortion.


Place interleaving material between the text block and the front and back covers. If time and supplies allow interleaving materi- al should be placed intermittently throughout the text as well. Fan volumes open and stand them on edge with the interleaving paper extending beyond the edges of the book. Evaporation of water as it wicks into the interleaving paper will enhance drying. Replace interleaving paper as it becomes soaked and invert the volume each time to insure even drying.


Air dry flat in small piles (1/2 inch) or individually if possi- ble. Change blotting material beneath the materials as it becomes soaked.

Photographs, Negatives, Motion Picture Film

Several classes of photographs are highly susceptible to water damage and the recovery rate will be very low. Avoid touching the surface of photographic prints and negatives. If an old photographic process cannot be identified, observe the item carefully and contact a conservator for advice. Never freeze old photographs or negatives.

Most prints, negatives, and slides may successfully be individu ally air dried face up. Change blotting material beneath the photographs as it becomes soaked. Contemporary photographic prints and negatives which are still wet and have stuck together may separate after soaking in cold water. However, this type of treatment could cause irreversible damage. Highly valued items, especially prints for which there is no longer a negative, should be referred to a conservator immediately.

Framed Items

Remove the backing material from the frame. If the item is not stuck to the glass, carefully remove it from the frame and air dry. If the object appears to be stuck to the glass, do not attempt to remove it from the frame. Dry intact with the glass side down.

Occasionally object damage is irreversible. The treatment of items of high monetary, historic, or sentimental value should only be performed in consultation with a conservator. Decisions about the treatment of materials belonging to an institution should only be made by appropriate personnel. The American Institute for Conservation (202-452-9545) maintains a referral list of conservators who will be able to provide guidance for treating private collections.

This publication was produced as a public service. It may be reproduced and distributed freely in part or in its entirety. When duplicating individual articles please copy them exactly as they appear so that proper credit will be given to the originat ing institution.

The editors of this publication will be collaborating on addi tional projects. If there are issues which you would like to see addressed in the future please send your ideas to:

Preservation Policy and Services Division

National Archives & Records Administration

8th & Pennsylvania Avenue, NW

Washington, DC 20408

Fax (202)219-9324