ANU's Chifley Library uses freezers to preserve cold hard facts after flood
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ANU's Chifley Library uses freezers to preserve cold hard facts after flood

Librarians at the Australian National University are busy stacking freezers, not shelves, in the wake of the massive deluge to swamp Canberra last weekend.

A pile of sodden rare books from the university's Chifley Library are being stored in special freezers as librarians figure out the best way to preserve them.

Clean up after flooding in Chifley Library at ANU.

Clean up after flooding in Chifley Library at ANU. Credit:Dion Georgopoulos

Librarian Roxanne Missingham took a break from the painstaking job on Sunday morning to describe the mammoth task ahead.

"We freeze the books and we separate all the pages. It's very important they aren't exposed to heat because that will make mould grow more quickly," she said.

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Senior archivist Sarah Lethbridge, left, and university librarian Roxanne Missingham survey the damage after last weekend's floods.

Senior archivist Sarah Lethbridge, left, and university librarian Roxanne Missingham survey the damage after last weekend's floods.Credit:Dion Georgopoulos

"If they are really sodden, we will have to separate them page by page, and we might even have to take the spine off and put special paper between each page."

The books won't be thrown into any old chest freezer for preservation.

"We use a specialised freezer that goes to quite a low temperature," Ms Missingham said.

"There are two in the archives at ANU, and we also have access to others in cultural institutions in Canberra through the Disaster ACT consortium."

Freezers are being used to freeze books so they can be saved from the flood damage.

Freezers are being used to freeze books so they can be saved from the flood damage. Credit:Dion Georgopoulos

By freezing the books, the library would buy themselves more time to figure out whether particular titles needed to be restored or not.

"We can put the books in the freezer for up to a year before we decide what to do with them," Ms Missingham said.

Books soak up the flood water and expand.

Books soak up the flood water and expand. Credit:Dion Georgopoulos

"We might find there are things that have been frozen that we are able to replace, or we might decide we want to restore them."

Ms Missingham said the library would specifically look to preserve books and pamphlets that could not easily be found elsewhere in Australia.

 Sarah Lethbridge senior archivist demonstrates how to package the books for freezing.

Sarah Lethbridge senior archivist demonstrates how to package the books for freezing. Credit:Dion Georgopoulos

"For us we are looking for material that is not held in any other library in Australia, or material that academics have identified as being very important.

"Or, we are looking for anything else significant that we have identified as needing immediate retrieval."

The clean up will take some time.

The clean up will take some time.Credit:Dion Georgopoulos

The team had been hard at work since the flood last Sunday, although there was still a fair bit of work ahead of them.

"I think it's going to take days, we had quite a large collection down there," Ms Missingham said.

Boxes of paper destroyed by the floods.

Boxes of paper destroyed by the floods. Credit:Dion Georgopoulos

"It is very hot weather and we need to wear full protective equipment. It's hot, and the work is physically draining as well."

Ms Missingham said it was too early to say exactly how badly the library had been impacted by the flood.

"But in human tears, the scale of damage is very high," she said.

"Many of us had a little cry yesterday."

More than a month's worth of rain brought the city to a standstill last Sunday, with ACT emergency services responding to more than 250 calls.

The Australian National University was forced to close the following Monday after Sullivans Creek burst its banks.