Your Water Damaged Books
Of all the items that can be ruined by water damage, books are among the trickiest when it comes to restoration. In many cases, books will need to be replaced, but if they are rare items or heirlooms or have some sort of sentimental value, then they will require specialized treatment to ensure full restoration and salvage. There are conservators who specialize in this type of restoration and will be able to treat your books with the care they need.
If treatment is not immediately available, then you may want to freeze the damaged book until it can be looked after. Remember that wet pages tear very easily. Do not attempt to open the book, fan the pages, or remove any bindings. Instead, cover the drying surface with plastic sheeting and absorbent paper, stand the soaked book on its head and allow the water to drain, and place paper towels between the text block and the cover. Paper towels should be replaced as it becomes saturated, and use fans to circulate the air.
We mentioned freezing, as this is an excellent way to prevent further damage and also head off any subsequent problems such as mold. It also buys time for you to determine a course of action as it pertains to the water clean up and restoration of the books. Each book should be wrapped in freezer paper or wax paper, packed in plastic crates (spine down), and arranged snugly but not tightly (there is a difference). Know which freezer facilities your books are sent to, and have them categorized and recorded so that you will know what books went where. Books should be placed in refrigerated trucks if they cannot be frozen within 48 hours.
For partially wet or damp books, you want to cover the surfaces with plastic sheeting, and then interleave every 20 pages or so with paper towels. The book can lay flat until the towels have absorbed some of the water, and this should take about an hour or so. Then the book may be stood on end and slightly fanned for additional drying coverage. Change the paper every so often to allow for continued drying.
For books that are merely damp but not saturated, perhaps as the result of basement flooding, stand them on end and slightly fan them, using absorbent paper between the boards and the book. Use fans to circulate the air in order to allow the books to dry completely.
There are similar procedures in place for treating water damaged documents, artwork, and photographs. In these cases, again, it is recommended that you contact an experienced damage restoration conservator to make sure that these valuable items are properly treated and cared for.