Saturday 24 February 2018

Library leak damages rare artefacts

Colin Gleeson

A LEADING library has launched an investigation into how rare artefacts were damaged by a new air conditioning system, which was designed to protect them.

Five small albums of late 18th century English prints were "severely affected" and will require "considerable" conservation work after the air conditioning malfunctioned, Dr Michael Ryan, the director of the Chester Beatty Library in Dublin Castle, said yesterday. Dr Ryan said approximately 20 artefacts at the library suffered "slight water damage" when a hose feeding water into an air-conditioning device "disconnected itself" and caused a flood in a separate room to that where the collection was being stored.

He could not explain how the hose disconnected itself.

"Water ran along a construction beam and emerged in our storage area," he said. "It hadn't penetrated the whole way into the room but it began to drip quite severely. Had it just been a minor drip, like the drip from a tap, it would have been trivial."

The machinery at fault was installed at the library just three weeks ago. It was designed to maintain humidity at a particular level to protect manuscripts and leather bindings which are "very susceptible to damage if they're saturated or if they dry out".

The device injects humidity in to a room when it falls below the required level, and takes it out again when humidity rises above that level.

Artefacts that suffered minor damage include late medieval manuscripts and 18th century prints. Dr Ryan said the five severely affected objects were "out on a table for inspection" rather than in storage when the leak occurred. He could not reveal how much the damaged materials are worth as it is "standard policy" not to do so.

He said that nothing was "beyond salvage" at the library, but that the five albums require "an awful lot of work" -- and there may be some permanent disfigurement.

"I think they will be saved, but whether there will be some minor impairment or disfigurement from the water damage is a matter that will emerge during the conservation and I wouldn't second-guess that," he said.

Irish Independent

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