Museum Handbook: Primer on Disaster Preparedness
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It is important to understand that the processes used by vacuum and freeze-drying companies differ considerably depending on the specific requirements of the material to be dried. The majority of these companies have developed their technologies for food. Few have had experience in drying paper and books and therefore may not know if their normal operating system would be safe, or cost effective for this purpose. Freeze-drying has a number of significant advantages over vacuum drying since water remains in the frozen state during sublimation, a process which removes water from the solid state to the gaseous state. This avoids most of the problems associated with expansion, sticking and wicking of water sensitive and soluble media. Vacuum drying, generally considered to be a process that changes a liquid to a vapor, will result in a much greater risk of expansion, distortion, sticking, and staining.

Although both drying methods have been found to produce satisfactory results in a number of disaster recovery events, comparison between the two following a disaster has not been made. Our preference is for freeze-drying because it is the least aggressive of the two methods. However, there are situations where for instance, archival documents have been affected and where there is a low percentage of intrinsically valuable material, where vacuum drying has provided satisfactory results. The choice between the two should be governed by the nature, value and condition of the damaged material. Rare collections of significant value need to be dried with due regard to the sensitivity of the substrate and media and it is for this reason why we suggested earlier that such materials be segregated form the less rare.

Freeze-drying which is used to dry animal specimens, does so at very low internal chamber temperatures, lower than is used for most food processes. One animal specimen may take several weeks to dry. At this slow rate of drying the costs are high. Most paper and book material can withstand higher temperatures than those used to dry delicate animal specimens and there is a need for thermal energy to make the process efficient and cost effective.

If a vacuum or freeze-drying chamber is designed to operate with internal chamber heat sources, these must not touch the material to be dried, to avoid over heating and scorching. The internal temperature of a chamber should be no greater than 100 degrees Fahrenheit (37.8 degrees Celsius). For sensitive materials, including early book material where there is a mix of paper, vellum leather and wood etc., below ambient temperatures or those used to dry animal specimens should be used, to dry the material slowly and under carefully monitored conditions. (Note: In specifying an upper limit of 100 degrees Fahrenheit we consider this to be a safe temperature. There is insufficient data at this time to evaluate the effects of higher temperatures).

It is important to realize that the success of any large drying system depends on the ability of the system to stop the development of mold during and after the drying process. Be aware of the risks in accepting material returned from commercial drying processes unless there is a guarantee that none will be returned damp or wet. If mold develops after return, it may not be possible to detect it, if the material remains boxed. If care was taken to segregate mold-contaminated from non-contaminated items during recovery, boxing and freezing, this will help determine if the drying was carried out properly. If mold develops in the non-contaminated material, the chances are that either the drying was not done correctly or that drying was not complete.

Mold-infected material, if dried completely under freeze-drying conditions, can be safely controlled for a short period of time, so that the spores remain quite dormant if stored after drying in an air conditioned environment maintained at 50 to 55 degrees Fahrenheit and a relative humidity of 35 percent or lower. However they must not be returned to the library or archive shelves until the mold contamination has been treated. For this reason we recommend that at the end of the drying cycle and while still in the drying chamber all mold-contaminated material be sterilized. If extreme care was not taken to separate contaminated from non-contaminated materials before the drying operation, we recommend that each drying load be sterilized.