UTAS Tries To Save Hundreds Of Rare Law Books Damaged By Flood By Freeze Drying Them


Conservation experts go to great lengths to recover hundreds of rare books damaged in the floods that devastated southern Tasmania earlier this year.

The University of Tasmania Law School library was flooded in May, causing thousands of books to float through its front door.

While over 4000 books have been completely destroyed, around 400 rare books are being processed in Victoria.

Senior Librarian Juliet Beale said many copies of the library are irreplaceable.

“There are very old editions; there are books of which we have the only copies in Australia,” she said.

“It’s that snapshot of the legal profession when Van Diemen’s Land was first settled,” she said.

Ms Beale said she will never forget the day the flood hit.

“We went down with one of the other library staff and I remember seeing these white things on the oval, and I remember saying, ‘Isn’t it weird how cockatoos come to roost when there is a disaster? “she said.

“Then we got closer and said, ‘These are not cockatoos, these are books.’

Some books were the only copies in Australia, says librarian Juliet Beale.(ABC News: Scott Ross)

“Desecration” of books exposed to the elements

UTAS Law School Dean Professor Tim McCormack said it was moving to see the books strewn across the lawn.

Tim McCormack, Dean of UTAS
Tim McCormack said it was difficult to see the books exposed to the elements.(ABC News: Carla Howarth)

“As I started to pick up soggy books – pick them up by the spine, and the contents just fell out – I found it really difficult,” he said.

“As lawyers, and perhaps for other professions where books are so important to our work, it was a sacrilege.

“This is just not the way books should be treated.

“All the work that has gone into these books, even though it is a subject that I would never read, it is desecration on their part to have ruined them as they were, and then to be exposed to the elements. “

After the flood, curator Kim Morris flew to Hobart from Canberra to give advice.

“Once those books were frozen, it gave the people who worked with the collection time to figure out what to do with the rest of the material.

“It’s really a matter of prioritization because you have limited resources.

“When you have thousands and thousands of pounds that have been affected, you really have to start planning how you’re going to get through that amount of material.”

Wayne Spence of the Steamatic water damage restoration service in Victoria said the books had been frozen to stop any damage in progress.

“They can be held indefinitely until a decision is made on the books,” he said.

“We then put them in our vacuum freeze-drying chamber.

“Ice [from the wet books] melts, turns into vapor and is captured in our vacuum chamber machine.

“It then picks up moisture and the pages or documents come apart.”


Nancy I. Romero

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