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15. Cooperative approach to the use of freeze-dry chambers

15.1 General considerations

The price of a vacuum chamber with the capacity to freeze-dry approximately 100 books or the equivalent volume of documents is relatively modest: cheaper than the price of some automobiles. However, it would make little sense for individual archives or libraries to purchase such a machine, install it, train an operator, then wait for a disaster to occur. There is no economic logic to the plan. With this thought in mind, some alternatives are suggested which may be helpful in finding a more viable approach with more practical and economic sense.

15.2 Regional cooperation

It may be of interest to mention a highly successful example of regional cooperation in sharing the financial costs of services and facilities required to restore, preserve, and maintain books and documents under the custody of several institutions. In 1972 six New England states drafted and approved an interstate library compact that created the New England Document Conservation Center (61) in North Andover, Massachusetts.

The compact provided an agreement that each state government would contribute funds to the NEDCC, allow membership fees, and accept grants from foundations as a non-profit organization. Members such as public libraries, state and local archives, private but non-profit educational institutions, would be entitled to use the services and facilities of the NEDCC on an "at cost" basis. Since 1972 several changes have been made. Membership has expanded, the name changed from "New England" to "North East'' and its services open to the public sector.

As a regional organization the NEDCC "owns" several pieces of high cost equipment, some mobile, that many libraries or archives could afford or want. This equipment is available to a vast clientele when needed.

15.3 Cooperation with public institutions

In most countries the answer to the accessibility of vacuum-drying and freeze-drying facilities might be found in a cooperative understanding between the smaller and more numerous state funded archives and libraries, and the larger, better endowed public institutions. In the latter category are national archives and libraries, state universities, museums, scientific organizations, and certain of the armed forces. Some of these entities either have the potential for operating a vacuum chamber, or actually have and operate one.

In the case of entities with a potential, two examples can be cited. The first is the National Library of Austria in Vienna. It is anticipated that a freeze-dry chamber will be installed in the library's restoration laboratory under the supervision of a conservator-scientist. The chamber will be used not only for drying water-damaged books and documents, but for other conservation techniques as well. The situation at the National Library is ideal: A prestigious institution with a technical staff totally familiar with paper, leather, parchment; a place where the comportment of sizes, adhesives, inks and dyes, in the presence of water is known. The whole of this knowledge can be useful in the scientific investigation and application of vacuum-drying and freeze-drying techniques to water-damaged archival and library materials.

Another organization with similar potential is the Central Research Laboratory for Objects of Art and Sciences in Amsterdam. Its scientists have had experience in the freeze-drying of water-damaged books using laboratory equipment. The institution has also worked with machines of the type used in food industry. It is their hope for the future to have a vacuum freeze-dry chamber for experimental purposes. Undoubtedly, the chamber will also be available for use in any emergency.

Such public institutions appear to be the most logical custodians of freeze-dry chambers. Both are oriented toward the preservation and conservation of cultural objects; both are rich in scientific expertise in this area. Furthermore, the appropriation of funds can be justified by the dual mission of the chamber: Laboratory experiments and testing, its availability for the salvage of water-damaged archival and library materials.

As to the second case, there are many state universities and scientific centers that possess freeze-dry chambers of various sizes. These could serve to dry relatively small amounts of wetted materials. However, even with agreement to help in an emergency, it is understandable if there is reluctance on the part of a department to tie up its personnel and chambers to dry a bunch of frozen documents or books that had the misfortune of getting wet. Nevertheless, if the materials are in cold storage there is time to wait.

Another public entity that normally has vacuum chambers is a nation's armed forces, specifically, the air force. This arm requires such chambers for the study of space medicine and related experiments, particularly for the observation and testing of the physiological behavior of the human body at high altitudes. The supervision of these tests is usually under medical personnel and specialized technicians. As cited in this study, vacuum chambers have already been used in drying large amounts of wetted archival materials. Since these facilities are in the public domain, there is a possibility that interdepartmental consent could be granted for their use in an emergency. And if a nation has a public funded space program, this is another possibility to explore.

15.4 Commercial cooperation

The fact that the majority of archives and libraries are non-profit organizations with a selfless mission has, in many cases, prompted owners of commercial vacuum chambers used in a disaster to absorb the costs involved. While it might be asking to much for an extension of this courtesy ahead of time, there is no reason why an attempt cannot be made to offer payment for emergency services on a cost basis. Commercial companies that process food, and aircraft companies engaged in space activities should be kept in mind for drying sizable quantities of water-damaged materials since their chambers are of large capacity.


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