During the tornados in the Kissimmee area a few years ago, I helped with the clean-up and preservation of paper items. Although not an archivist, I am a professional artist, and am used to trying to keep artwork archivally sound and salvaging damaged paperworks. I submit this in hopes some of these suggestions can help.
Best advice (when you have advanced warning) is to put all the paper items (photo albums, files, artwork) you canít take and your computers in plastic bags, seal them and place them in a closet off the floor before a hurricane.
When collecting paper items to save, try not to waste valuable time and effort salvaging needless or replaceable items. Newspapers, magazines, junk mail, water damaged novels, etc can be replaced, so unless they are special (ie 1st editions, family bibles, yearbooks, or clippings saved for a reason); trash them. Military awards, etc, can sometimes be replaced by the government, so salvage them in case, but also be aware you can try and make some phone calls later for new copies.
If you find a pile of them wet KEEP them wet...if they dry out, they will stick together in permanent lump. Simply put them in a plastic bag until you can attempt to deal with them in a cleaner area.
If they are wet, but not dirty, put them on a flat area off to the side to dry. Keep an eye on them to see if they start to buckle. Also, try and flip through the pages to keep them from welding together periodically. Some may need to be weighed down to keep them flat. They also need to be moved around to keep them drying as evenly as possible.
This includes medical records, passports, certificates, insurance papers, bills, checks, etc. Dry papers (and very minimally damp papers ) can be stacked and weighed down on a flat surface under a heavy flat object to keep them from bowing away. Wet papers cannot be stacked or they will fuse together into a use lump. Find a flat surface and weigh them down to dry.
Important paper goods that are torn: carefully collect all the pieces you can find. Try and keep torn scraps separated; if you have more than one torn item, try and keep them apart. In Kissimmee, we salvage a marriage licence and insurance papers this way...
If recovered items are dirty and wet, NEVER try to brush it off . You may only embed the soil into it permanently.
Watching and caring for all these items on site is a good job for someone who wants to help, but cannot handle more strenuous physical cleanup and repair activities.
2). Repairing, salvaging, restoring...
Items needed: soft artist or make-up brushes
lots of water, (professionals would use distilled water)
Photography refinishing spray
shallow plastic rectangular pans for water
lots of space for drying
things to weigh corners down
Archival tape (scotch tape for less important items, see below)
Once you have a chance to work inside in a dry area; salvaging the water damaged, dirty items can begin. If you have any priceless items, talk to a museum curator and get professional advise.
Continue drying water damaged books slowly and remember to carefully keep flipping the pages to avoid sticking. Dirty books should NOT be scrubbed, but left to dry. AFTER drying, dirt may at least partially be brushed off, using soft artist or make-up brushes. We had a dedicated team of volunteers who went through several Bibles page by page...
Books with pages that are severely stuck together sometimes be soaked apart page by page in a clean water bath...but this can damage the binding, so weigh the worth of the book carefully. Have a shallow tray, so the separated pages can be left out of the water. As each page is unstuck, put a piece of paper towel, blotting paper, or if you have nothing else, lightly wipe it down and use PLAIN white photocopy or UNPRINTED newsprint paper. This is VERY tedious work...
Wet, dirty photographs need to be gently immersed in CLEAN water. GENTLY swish them around so ideally, the dirt will float off... Replace water as necessary, until it stays clean.
Carefully try while they are under water, to separate the photos. Be advised, you may not be able to take them apart one at a time, sometimes the pile may be more willing to split where photos were twisted. Some may NEVER come apart. TEASE them apart gently, you are trying NOT to have the emulsion from one adhere to the back of the one above it.
As you get the apart, gently take each individual picture and rinse it, then set it side on blotters/ toweling to dry. You may need to weigh them to keep them from curling.
After you have saved all you can, and they are dry, you may noticed they are scuffed and scratched. Some professional photographers brought us a spray photograph sealer which renewed the surfaces quite a bit. It was a bit like a spray varnish, but none yellowing and fast drying.
Damaged legal sized papers, etc...
8 x 11 standard paper: Dry them as flat as possible. Like books, any dirt may then at least partially be brushed off, using soft artist or make-up brushes. If you are simply salvaging paperwork that DOES NOT need to be kept for more than 5 years, (tax stuff, bank account info, etc.) tape it back together as carefully as possible.
Certificates such as charters; marriage, birth, death certificates; diplomas, etc that are torn can be carefully repaired. Pieces should be carefully cleaned and dried so as not to damage them or stretch them out of shape. Use blotting paper and flatten them carefully.
Archival tape is available at art and craft stores. This is tape that will not yellow with age. Always tape things on back. Slip repaired items into archival sleeves, or have them dry-mounted onto a stable backing permanently by a professional. Framed, under glass, they can redisplayed.
You can try and mount them yourself, but stand the risk of damaging them beyond salvage.
Houses can be rebuilt, new furniture and appliances bought, but nothing can replace the keep sakes, old pictures and letters from dear friends and family. I hope this helps you salvage your true treasures.†
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