"Parched!" says Pee Wee Herman. He and I are about 98% water, most of it
sweat at the moment. 98% is a reservoir compared to a book which is often no
more than 3% water. Water sustains life; and while a book may not be kicking,
it is alive in some manner of speaking.
We are "parched" when, like raisins beneath the sun, we begin to dry out and
shrivel up. A book shares these characteristics when it becomes parched. Water
loss and being parched is much more serious for a book than either of us. Say
Pee Wee sweats off 1% of his water. Sure he'll be a bit thirsty but just add
water: SHAZAM! Now, say a book looses 0.1. Water loss results in permanent
destruction of paper fibers and the chemical bonds that held fibers together as
a sheet of paper. Even if a book could drink, no amount of water would
sufficiently reconstitute its paper. Normally, you will not see the damage of
water loss in books for years. Water loss, along with acid hydrolysis, slowly
contributes to embrittlement of paper.
Let's examine Sidney Ives' wonderful collection of rice paper prints in Rare
Books. First a word about "rice paper". The "rice paper" most of us know is
not the real rice paper; it's "Japanese paper"! Japanese paper like western
paper has long fibers which mesh together to form a strong sheet of paper werb-La
is often tissue thin (cf, figures la and Ib). The real rice paper isn't paper
at all. It is a horizontal section of the center ofatree, Tetrapanax
papyriferum, cut tissue thin. Rice paper has a cellular rather than fibrous
structure which resembles and acts like a bowl of cooked rice (cf, figures 2a
and 2b). There is no overlap or meshtas there is with real paper. This
structure makes it more susceptible(the effects of drying out than real paper;
and therefore, better demonstrates the damage caused by heat and dry climates.
If, in fact, things dry out and shrivel up when parched, we can expect rice
paper's cells to pull away from one another as they shrivel up.
Mr. Ives' prints are on the real rice paper and handsomely mounted for all
to see in Rare Books. The art work is stunning and well worth a visit aside
from our examination. Examination reveals both shrinkage and cracks. The
prints have been parched. To date, parched and embrittled paper -- whether real
paper, rice paper, papyrus, or parchment -- can not be restored once embrittled.
How can embrittlement be slowed or stopped? Theoretically, it can be
stopped by deep freezing. This hardly leaves materials usable. Books would
have to be thawed before use; but continual temperature fluctuations -- in and
out of a freezer -- do as much harm as Jane Fonda's workout regime to Pee Wee
Herman's dear old dad. Storage standards say that ideally books and paper
should be maintained at 60f +5u and 50% Relative Humidity +5%. Most of us
would freeze if we had to work in 600f; and Florida's humidity is often far
higher than 50% RH. Obviously, the best we can do is to prevent the climate
from becoming too hot-or-cold-and- dry to parch materials and too hot-and-humid
to support mold growth.
Now, as we sweat, let's examine the benefit of humidity. Assuming we keep
temperature j, close to 68b-70rf, the point at which mold bloom occurs, 50%+ RH
ma prevent materials from becoming parched and embrittled. A cent, on-going
study in Japan indicates that higher humidity may prevent embrittlement. This
would explain why a book stored in New York City is more brittle than the same
title in Copenhagen, Denmark. The climate in New York is both hotter and drier
than in Denmark. Japanese scientists have begun to conjecture that climate, and
most importantly humidity, is the reason collections of books published in
America between 1850 and 1950 are 25-35% embrittled in New England while 10-17%
embrittled in the Florida/deep-South and England, and only 3% embrittled in
Japan. Cold air and over heating during New England winters is the apparent
If we return now to Mr. Ives' prints, Mr. Ives' will tell you that they
hung, formerly, in his bathroom where humidity was adequate to prevent them from
becoming parched. Their current location, in Rare Books, while certainly not
hot or dry, is less ideal than Mr. Ives' sultry bathroom. If only these prints
could speak, they might utter a dying word: "Parched!"
Humidity often gets a bum wrap, especially in Florida where it fosters mold
growth and leaves us wetter than a used wash-cloth. This summer, rather than
curse the pools of rain-water steaming up off the pavement, let's join Pee Wee
Herman and sing "Somebody Loves You" for the sake of our books.
Pew Wee demonstrates the
fibrous structure of Japanese
paper with meshed fingers.
Pee Wee demonstrates the
cellular structure of rice
paper with clenched fists.
The cellular structure of
The fibrous structure of
Japanese paper. ,