What do we do if our books get damaged?

Fire and water are the nemeses of the British Library and we do everything we can to keep them away from our collections.

For example:

  • looking up in the Entrance Hall and gallery spaces, you’ll see no shortage of sprinklers to counter a fire
  • our most precious items are kept in special chambers, known as strongrooms, which automatically release a gas called Inergen (made up of nitrogen, carbon dioxide and argon) to extinguish flames without the need for water
  • all entrances to the building are raised as a kind of dam to prevent flood water from the street entering, e.g. in the event of a burst water mains.

We can’t eliminate the risks completely though, so what happens if disaster strikes and our collections get damaged?

Our Salvage team are on-call 24/7 and have a range of tools and equipment to help them respond. Down in the basements, is our salvage recovery area – a kind of book hospital – where conservators can assess any damage and decide what treatments are needed.

Damp items can simply be air dried in a dedicated drying area. Those that are more wet are placed in our industrial blast freezer and chiller to prevent the risk of mould developing and limit staining and distortion.

We also have a vacuum freeze drier that we can use to slowly dry frozen books. We create a vacuum and slowly increase the temperature, allowing any ice to shift from a solid to a gas. This saves the books from having to be defrosted, which would cause them to become wet again. 

Not all collection items can be frozen though, and in these cases, we have to take the object in question directly to our Conservation department for treatment.

Explore more beneath your feet...

How do our galleries stay cool?

If our air con unit fails, it's all down to these nine buckets of ice...

How are our books organised?

Find out about how our collections are organised in the basements.

How do we treat mould and pests?

Bookworms aren’t the only ones who enjoy our books.