The Abbey Newsletter

Volume 22, Number 5

Leaky Roofs

Last September Eleanor Cook (Appalachian State University in Boone, NC) posted a request on the PADG list and the Cons DistList for advice about their library's leaky roof. The replies she received were mentioned in the next to last issue of this newsletter, on p. 49, and readers who wanted to see the replies were invited to ask her or the Abbey Newsletter office for a copy. To keep life simple, however, we are reproducing the six replies in slightly edited form below, so that individual requests will not be necessary.

Three of the replies deal with protecting books from roof leaks and moisture problems, and three with the freezing of wet books.

Eleanor Cook's original posting reads as follows: <>

We have a potential disaster on our hands: part of our roof needs to be replaced and it is leaking randomly. We have not had any significant rain in over three weeks, since we discovered the severity of the problem. (Believe it or not, we suffered no bad weather from Hurricane Bonnie.) Our campus administrators promise a new roof in 90 days possibly, but in the meantime, we are planning for disaster. If this roof is not fixed by winter, we may be in for serious problems, since it is flat and we are in a major snow region.

We are worried about water damage to books in our general stacks, and we are also worried about mold blooms in the ceiling tiles and crawl space above the ceiling. In preparation we have covered the affected areas with 4 mil plastic which drapes about halfway down each range; patrons can fairly easily lift the plastic to get to the books.

There are no obvious (blue) mold outbreaks, and our stacks have a relative humidity that is low most of the time anyway (in fact, usually we are too dry), but one column near a window has a white fungus imbedded in the wood paneling, and we think we should replace this. No books are showing mold at this point.

We are working on disaster contingencies. We've contacted SOLINET and several companies that specialize in moisture control. We feel fortunate that we can kind of "plan" for this--but I have a couple of questions for the experts:

  1. In identifying local freezer spaces in the event of really wet books, we are running up against possible Health Department restrictions concerning placing non-food items in commercial food freezer space. How should we handle this? Boone is a small town with not much cold storage other than food freezers. Disaster mitigation companies say they will bring their trucks, but they cannot get here immediately since we are remote. We are thinking of asking staff with home freezers to "adopt" books if necessary.
  2. We want to remove the waterlogged ceiling tiles because of the possibility of mold. Our Physical Plant people say that the style of ceiling tiles we have are not replaceable (i.e., no longer made), but we would rather have the water-damaged ones removed and something else put up in their place, regardless of what they look like. Any suggestion on how to deal with this? If the holes are left open, all the heat rises in the winter, and that causes problems with the HVAC system.

Thanks for any advice.

From Cathy Atwood at the Missouri Secretary of State's office: <>

I realize that patron access is a problem, and that a complete covering of book stacks in plastic can lead to more mold. However, you'll want to change this configuration if there is a leak of any volume. I have often seen water diverted from the top of a range by plastic, splashing up off the floor. Books on the bottom shelf (or even two shelves) get wet. Even when there is carpet, it can get saturated enough that water splashes up.

From Jeanne Eichelberger of Binghamton University, NY:<>

I ran into the same problem [possible Health Department restrictions] in looking for freezer space. There are health regulations limiting what can be put in commercial food freezers. Oddly enough, the food service on campus here didn't seem to have that objection; their main worry was that they might need the space before we could get the wet books out of their way. There were some local family-owned food suppliers who were quite willing, space permitting, and didn't bring up the regulations against non-food at all. I suspect it's the larger chain companies whose management is stricter, or whose insurance is more complicated or whatever.

I found that, in a pinch, we could rent refrigerated trucks. It would be expensive, but way ahead of nothing.

All that being said, we have dealt with numerous leaks in our library's flat roof--none as awesome as what you seem to be faced with, but we did have to dry over 900 books just a couple of weeks ago. We were able to air-dry them with the help of lots of fans and dehumidifiers. Some of them took two weeks to dry, but none of them molded, and we didn't have to freeze any. We have seldom had to freeze books, and when we did, we parceled them out to library staff with large home freezers and then retrieved them as we were able to deal with them. The number that required freezing was never many--only a very small percentage of the total wet books.

Regarding your wet tiles, take them out and replace them with whatever is available. Never mind looks. In a pinch you can paint the whole ceiling. If they won't give you new tiles, take out the wet ones and tack up plastic to keep the heat in. Again, never mind how it looks. Leaving soggy tiles in place is an invitation to chronic, major mold problems.

A word about the stacks you have covered with plastic sheeting. Be sure your books are as far away from the edges of the shelves as possible. If you have a leak, water will run down the plastic sheeting till it gets to the edge of it, then keep going, possibly hitting the edges of the lower shelves below the sheeting and getting on any books that are sitting right at the front of the shelves.

From Dorothy Africa of the Harvard Law School Library: <>

I can only suggest a minor addition to your efforts to keep mold at bay. Here at the Law Library we have several storage areas frequently at risk for mold due to leaking pipes, etc. We have found that fans are a crucial element, as well as keeping humidity down. Mold likes to grow in still air, and hanging plastic can cut down greatly on air circulation. The strategic placement of fans can help to keep the air moving in areas which you suspect to be at greatest risk.

The next three contributions deal with preparations for drying books that have already gotten wet. This may not be as unrelated to leaky roofs as it seems, because the easiest time to think ahead, and to elicit cooperation in these preparations, is probably when the threat of water damage is demonstrably real.

Cathy Atwood sent a second message, offering to send her 1998 AIC paper on recovery of wet books at a Missouri courthouse, "The Aftermath of Arson: Packing a Freezer Trailer, and Other Tidbits." The abstract reads, in part, as follows: <>

The county records were salvaged through a combination of local effort (business and citizens) and government entities. A freezer trailer was donated, and we eventually learned how to pack files onto pallets and books into watermelon crates.

She also forwarded this excerpt:

The government recognizes mold as a normal occurrence on produce, and there are accepted cleanup procedures for mold. So trailers and cold storage facilities can be used for moldy books and papers. If your disaster has contaminated the records with other products (fuel oil, river water, sewage, etc.), be sure to discuss this with the owner of the reefer [refrigerated truck].

From Sue Maltby at the University of Toronto:<>

I recommend that you find volunteers who will offer to freeze a few books for you prior to the disaster relief people's arrival. When researching this issue, I spoke with a number of those [disaster relief] firms. One of them said that if only a few books are wet you can freeze them and then ship them via overnight courier (packed in a styrofoam cooler) and they will treat them as soon as they get there.

What about a freezer facility at the University? Surely they have some [space or coolers] they could loan you! I'd ask a mechanical engineer about how to go about replacing tiles so that your system still works. Can you remove the tiles, dry them out and then replace them? Or are they so wet that they'll fall apart in your hands? My final question regards the composition of the tiles--if they're pretty old they may contain asbestos.

From Craig Fansler at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem: <>

In 1997, the Z. Smith Reynolds Library experienced similar problems with water leaking into the building from the roof and faulty drains. The library rented space in a local commercial cold storage warehouse, and packaged all the wet books in boxes until they could be transported by freezer truck [from there] to a freeze drying company. The boxes of books were kept in a freezer at approximately 30 degrees. This was quite successful and we had no health department problems. Our leaky roof was repaired immediately, and the interior ceiling tiles were removed and replaced.

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