About the Museum Water Emergency Project

Sorting water damaged test samplesIPI’s research into the effects of water on digital prints began in 2007 with our DP3 Project: Digital Print Preservation Portal (Part II) - Evaluations of the Effects of Housing, Handling, and Flood on Modern Digital Prints. That project focused on a variety of key areas of concern for the preservation of digital prints in libraries and museums including selecting appropriate housing and display materials, defining the effects of handling, and importantly on establishing and quantifying the risk of damage due to flood. The work led to new water-resistance test methods that could accurately assess the way water can harm digital prints from color bleed to cockling to disintegration of surface layers. The new methodology was then employed to rank the wide variety of digital print materials found in collections in terms of water resistance. These results, when compared to traditional wet-processed photography showed that the new modern prints were dramatically more sensitive to water and desperately needed new methods for water emergency preparedness, response and recovery.

Examining the effects of water dropletsIn 2013, IPI received a second IMLS grant for a two-year follow-up research and development project to build on the previous work and create the effective disaster prevention, response, and recovery strategies for inkjet prints in museum collections. This project addressed major questions such as what condition will an inkjet collection be in when access to the flooded environments is granted and salvage begins. Also, what happens when the offending water is dirty or salty, and how and when prints should be rinsed? Do different enclosure materials and designs exacerbate problems or provide some level of protection? And of course, how long will it take the prints to dry? This project was intended to fill that knowledge gap and provide collection care personnel with the information and tools they need: first, to minimize risk of damage; second, to respond most efficiently during the emergency; and third, to retrieve and stabilize exposed materials following such unfortunate events. The results of both these efforts are the basis for this new section of IPI’s DP3 Project website.

Inkjet paper samples in muddy waterStill needed, however, are efforts to develop water emergency response for libraries and archives. This is important because the 2013 project focused only on water emergency response techniques for inkjet-printed fine art and photography in museums. That project was narrow in focus because the types of prints in museums tend to be from one technology (high-end inkjet), on very specialized papers, and in few formats (usually single sheets). In contrast, libraries and archives will ingest objects from a greater variety of technologies (inkjet & electrophotography), colorants (inks & toners), and formats (documents, books, periodicals, etc.) and in larger numbers, so new efforts will be neededto investigate and report on this greater range of material types and formats. Because so much was learned in the project addressing inkjet in museums, any new studies will be able to focus on the experiments that will be most useful including: development of the prioritization time line for objects retrieval from the flooded environment, understanding the unique forms of damage to bound materials (ink transfer between and through pages), and the best techniques for drying (air drying, freezing then air drying, or freeze drying). Such a project would finally complete the needs of the field with respect to water emergency response.



IPI’s research into Water Emergency Response for Inkjet prints has been generously provided by the Institute of Museum and Library Services. Funding for the Digital Print Preservation Portal website was provided by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

It is also important to acknowledge the IPI staff, student employees, and interns that contributed to this work over the years: Ivey Barker, Jordan Briscoe, Jennifer Burger, Lisa Cerra, Meghan Connor, Nicole Leclair, Jana Maravi, Lauren Parish, Gene Salesin, Jessica Scott, and Daniela Solera.

In addition, a special advisory board was created for the project. This panel was made up of known experts in the area of collections care with experience in water emergency response. Their role was to provide guidance, review and critique the work as it progresses, and evaluate the practicality, potential benefits, and drawbacks of the recommended practices based on the members’ individual experience and on the current standards in the field.  These four members, who generously donated their time and expertise, were:

  • Andrew Robb – Senior Photograph Conservator, Library of Congress
  • Sarah Wagner – Senior Photograph Conservator, National Gallery of Art
  • Monique Fischer – Senior Photograph Conservator, NEDCC
  • Steve Weintraub – founder and principal of Art Preservation Services, Inc.