Some years ago Glamorgan Archives acquired a vacuum press, which has been put to good use recently to package degrading cellulose nitrate and acetate negatives for safe handling before freezing. Conservation staff were just wondering what else the press could be used for when the November issue of the ICON Journal appeared. It featured an article by Hiromi Tanimura on squelch drying books damaged by tsunami water. The squelch method had been developed by Stuart Welch, and was first used to great effect in 2002 when dealing with the aftermath of the Prague floods at the National Library of the Czech Republic.
Squelch sounded like fun! So we decided to research the method further and try it out ourselves. Initial trials were on two modern hard back volumes, library deaccessions. They were put into a bucket which was filled with water and left overnight. The pages of the volumes had been splayed out for the first trial as we wanted the volumes to be as wet as possible.
The next morning the volumes were taken out of the water and as much of the water as was safely possible gently squeezed out by hand. They were then wrapped in bondina (a non-woven polyester fabric), which acts as a release and prevents the volume sticking to the newsprint in which it is wrapped before being bagged and vacuum packed in the machine.
Wrapping in bondina reduces cost as it also prevents any off setting from inks. Any kind of absorbent paper can be used, including printed newspaper, reducing costs as expensive blotting paper is not needed in large quantities.
Once the volume and its wrappings have been sealed and vac packed into its bag it compacts into a solid block. Because the volume has become so compact the water is forced out of the boards and text block into the news print. Once the news print is wet the process is repeated with paper or blotters placed between pages as the volume dries. After the initial 4 or 5 changes the paper wrappings and interleavings need changing only once every 24 hours.
The major advantages of this process are that once the volume is dry it still resembles a volume, opening and closing as it should, unlike an air dried volume which will be splayed and thickened. Removing the air removes the risk of mould growth so the volume can stay bagged in its wrappings for a considerable length of time. Compacted volumes are easily stacked for storage taking up much less space. This, along with the length of time they can be left before changing the wrappings, is especially useful in managing a large scale disaster, or if items need to be moved from one location to another.
The only problem we found with this method is that the spines of the volumes are pushed inwards distorting the volume slightly, so that the fore edge of the text block protrudes from the boards. But this may have been because we were using very modern, cheaply bound books. We are currently experimenting with using a former to support the edge in the bag and with older and more sturdy bindings to see if the spine still distorts. Mostly we are enjoying playing with the machine and telling visitors that we are squelching!