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Subject: Fireproof safes

Fireproof safes

From: Jeanne Eichelberger <jeichelb>
Date: Wednesday, February 20, 2002
Sherry Byrne <sbyr [at] midway__uchicago__edu> writes

>Does anyone have any experience with the use of fireproof safes for
>the storage of books?  We are working with a collector who keeps
>most of the valuable items from his 18th century book collection in
>fireproof safes in his home.  The size is about 3 1/2 feet.  The
>concern is about the relative humidity in the safes.  Instructions
>explain that there is water in the walls as part of the fire
>prevention design.  This also causes vaporization.  The manufacturer
>sends desiccant tablets that need to be regularly replaced and
>advises that books and other valuables be kept in Ziploc bags.  We
>always advise that people not keep books in baggies because of the
>moisture.   Does anyone have information, insights or references
>that might help us with this question?

My only encounter with this practice strongly indicates that it's
not a good idea. I once did an onsite preservation survey for a
historical society in our area, and they kept their most valuable
leather-bound books in a small fireproof safe.  The interior smelled
distinctly musty when the safe was opened, and there were traces of
what I assume was mildew on the books. The historical society was
on the horns of a dilemma in that their collection was housed in a
lovely Victorian firetrap of a house, with very poor security
against break-ins and theft, so under the circumstances I could
understand their justification for using the safe.

I pointed out the environmental problems with the safe and
recommended that, in the absence of any likelihood that they could
move the collections to a safer building, they should open the safe
whenever staff was there to allow the air to circulate.  I also
suggested that they might want to periodically take the books out
and open them to let them air out for a few hours.

That was the best answer I could come up with for that particular
situation.  Under no circumstances would I suggest that books,
especially leather-bound books, be sealed in plastic storage bags.
Like the person who submitted this question, I'd be interested to
hear others' thoughts on the subject.

Jeanne Eichelberger
Head of Special Collections and Preservation
University Libraries
Binghamton University
Binghamton, NY 13902-6012

                  Conservation DistList Instance 15:59
               Distributed: Wednesday, February 27, 2002
                       Message Id: cdl-15-59-009
Received on Wednesday, 20 February, 2002

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