From fire to ice: A look at restoring Hale’s damaged books

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Belfor, the company working to return Hale Library to its pre-fire glory, is currently restoring the library's books. Smoke and water damaged thousands upon thousands of books in the May 22 blaze on Hale's roof. (Katharine Schooler | Collegian Media Group)

The process of restoring water damaged books for Hale Library has begun, Michael Haddock, associate dean of research, education and engagement, said.

While the smoke-damaged books are already well into the restoration process, the work on water-damaged books, which have been stored on ice since their removal following the May 22 fire, is just beginning.

Preservation of the books began immediately after the librarians were allowed back into the library, which was about 48 hours after the building blazed. Haddock said librarians acted quickly to prevent the growth of mold and ward off further damage to wet books, placing them in the Department of Housing and Dining Services’s freezers.

“Some of the books already had mold growth within those few days,” Haddock said. “The temperature inside the building reached over 90 degrees which contributed to the growth.”

The books remained frozen in plastic-lined boxes until refrigerated tractor trailers transported the books to a Belfor facility in Forth Worth, Texas, Haddock said. Belfor is the property restoration company working to return Hale to its pre-fire glory.

Belfor, in restoring the books, employs an experimental sublimation process using incremental temperature change to turn the water between the pages of the frozen into vapor.

Haddock said about 90 percent of Hale’s books will return to their shelves.

Books damaged by smoke remain a little closer to home, Haddock said, as they are located in a series of climate controlled storage facilities either located near Manhattan Regional Airport as well as in the limestone caves in the Kansas City metropolitan area.

Haddock said “dry” damage books are more easily repaired, but Hale has transferred more than one million volumes into Belfor’s hands for damage reversal.

“The cleaning process involves a HEPA vacuum, which filters smoke and soot off the covers,” Haddock said. “Then, a chemical sponge wipes off wait remains. The books are put in an ozone chamber to be deodorized. Then, random volumes undergo a white glove test where they are stroked and tested for remaining soot.”

Haddock said each volume is cleaned individuall,y and in the meantime, the cleaned books are stored in a separate facility to prevent recontamination. The cleaning of each material takes six to nine months, but Haddock said there is hope a majority of the volumes will be back in Hale by the scheduled partial re-opening in December 2019.

“Shuffling the books around after being cleaned is tricky,” Haddock said. “It’s almost like a jigsaw puzzle.”

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I’m Bailey Britton, a freshman in Journalism and Mass Communications. I enjoy playing tennis and drinking coffee, but not at the same time. When I’m studying or writing, I can usually be found at Radina’s in the Union. I have a cat and a dog back home in Colby, KS.