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September 2002 - Nr. 9


The Editor
Antje berichtet
Alpine Fest
KW and Beyond
Hier O.K. Berlin!
Siegfried & Roy
Minister David Turnbull
Dick reports...
Sybille reports
Tourists safe
Rent a Bike
In the Flood's Wake
Automarkt Stabil
Fast 1000 Tote
Cook with Sun

In Flood’s Wake,
Waterlogged Books Await Rescue

  TWIG - Disastrous recent flooding in eastern Germany swept away not only homes and businesses, but hundreds of thousands of books, files and other media, leaving behind a sodden paper trail for restorers and officials. In the city of Grimma (Saxony) alone, some 12,000 works of literature were drenched and damaged - romance novels, stories of crime and adventure, contemporary and classic works alike. In early August, the books still stood in neatly alphabetized rows in the town’s public library. Two weeks later, the Mulde river flooded its banks and soon all the books, videos and cassettes on the library’s ground floor were under 9 feet of water. "Afterward, we found [the materials] covered in mud," says Grimma librarian Iris Faust. The nearby city archives and regional museum fared little better.

Although the waters have now receded, the danger to the books has not. As the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung reports, mold begins to bloom and devour books as soon as the wet pages are exposed to air. There is one way to halt the destruction: "Only when the books are flash frozen can more serious damage be prevented," says Manfred Anders, director of the Leipzig Center for Book Preservation. Several rooms at the center, now crammed with 30 tons of sodden paper, are being kept at a constant icy temperature of -4°F. Because humidity drops at low temperatures, the air in these super-cooled rooms sucks the moisture out of the books in a frozen state, ensuring that the book bindings don’t swell, ink doesn’t run, pages don’t stick together and ravaging mold doesn’t grow. Only after the drying process is complete can restorers begin to clean and further preserve these delicate materials.

In one of the cryogenic preservation chambers, books from the nearby city of Pirna are piled high. Pirna’s library, just three years old, contained 60,000 books, CDs, videos and cassettes housed in a lovingly restored gothic hall. As in Grimma, not much of it is left. The German Library Association estimates that the flood destroyed well over 250,000 media in the region. Elke Dämpfert, director of the association’s Berlin branch, can rattle off a distressing list: "The library in Bad Schandau is completely destroyed, there’s really nothing left there. In Döblen, the books were totally ruined, but the CDs could be salvaged. In Tharandt, the flood reduced the library itself to rubble." Libraries in the towns of Eilenburg, Riesa and Meißen were also affected. In Dresden, 240 tons of material - including hundreds of patient medical files and school files - were soaked.

In some cases, the flood-affected books are so thickly covered with sludge or have lain in water so long that mud and mold have destroyed what the force of floods could not. Other books may not be salvageable for another reason: lack of funding. Exact figures on what all this damage will cost aren’t yet available, but the Center for Book Preservation estimates the costs of restoration at about US$4 per (wet) pound of paper. "The expense of restoration isn’t worth it for us; we can only [afford it] for old and valuable books," notes Iris Faust. Replacing, rather than restoring, damaged books is in many cases more cost-effective. But even for those books that are worth restoring, necessary financing has yet to be secured.

Dresden’s splendid Semper Opera House was flooded so quickly, rescue workers had no time to save 23 scores to operas by Mozart and Wagner and compositions by Strauß, Brahms and others from the rising water. Because the hall intends to resume performances quickly and musicians need the scores to play, restorers are swiftly dismantling the scores page by page, then pressing, drying, smoothing, stacking and rebinding them.

Public libraries can only dream of such rapid rescue for their inventories. They are dependent upon donations. "The Stuttgart [Baden-Württemberg] public library has already promised to provide bestsellers to the affected libraries," says Elke Dämpfert. And many private citizens have phoned Grimma’s library asking where they can donate books. On September 2, an "emergency" lending desk was set up in the upper floor of the library, which sustained far less damage. "Many library users have called us because they want to return checked-out books," says Iris Faust. It is these checked out books that now form the core of the library’s undamaged holdings.

Manfred Anders says 70% to 80% of the materials that he and his staff are now processing are not books, but files. It is very likely that archives or government offices will get money to save their files first. "Libraries are elective municipal services. … They can’t count on being the first to receive support," the German Library Association acknowledges. Although the cultural foundation of Germany’s 16 federal states has pledged roughly US$10,000 to each of ten book-preservation projects, this money must be used only for "significant" works. Paperback novels, which public library users tend to check out most frequently, don’t qualify. And while libraries wait for financial help, mold is destroying their books. "Waiting is the worst," says Anders, "We can halt the decay, but we can’t reverse the damage that’s already been done." 

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