Monday, April 22, 2013

Humidification and Flattening

by Rachel Dworkin

Sometimes it’s just easier to store big paper items rolled.  They take up less room and don’t require a big, flat surface on which to store them.  The problem is that after a while they become nigh impossible to unroll.  Here in the archives, we like being able actually read our large maps and blueprints, so when we receive items which are rolled, we have to find a way to flatten them.  So, how do we turn this:

Into this?

We do it through the process of humidification and flattening.  As paper ages, it dries out becoming brittle and inflexible.  By carefully introducing moisture into the document, it becomes flexible again.  Documents are not soaked in water, as that would destroy them.  Instead, they are exposed to water vapor in a handy device we call a humidification chamber.  Humidification chambers come in all forms, some very high tech, some quite low.  Here at CCHS ours looks like this:

  Our chamber is simply a small plastic trash bin with holes drilled in the sides set into a larger, airtight, plastic trash can with a few inches of water in the bottom.  The whole thing is set next to a heater so the water can evaporate and be absorbed by the documents.  Depending on just how brittle the paper is, I leave documents in there for no less than 5 hours and no more than 3 days.  After that they tended to start growing mould.  Once the documents are flexible enough, I remove them from the table and flatten them. 

All in all, the process is fairly simple.  If you have any items you wish to flatten and don’t feel like building your own humidification chamber, I’d be happy to flatten them for you.  We charge a $5 fee to flatten batches of up to 5 documents.  Call my office to set up an appointment at (607) 724-4167 ex. 207

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