PPL's Special Collections room

The Palestine Public Library's Special Collections Room, which contains many historic documents and treasures, reopened in June.

Hundreds of Palestine's most precious documents — including many dating from the Civil War — could have been lost.

That was last December, when Librarian Karla Lang noticed moisture leaking from the ceiling onto a bookshelf in the Special Collections room. She also noticed spores of mold that looked like specs of dust growing on the spines of books in the library's closed stacks — a room where the library's most fragile and unique documents are kept.

For six months, the room remained closed while the city's Public Works Department searched for a cost-effective solution. The city first filed an insurance claim to the Texas Municipal League, which was denied. After, the city paid a Texas company $17,000 to assess the damage and hired Belfor, Inc., an international company that specializes in document restoration, about $79,000 to remediate.

The $100,000 restoration was completed in June, but money was only one issue; accessibility and convenience were also at stake.

Lang said some visitors expressed disappointment when they learned the room was closed – especially those who traveled from out of town to visit – but she still provided access to materials by retrieving them from the closed room or assisting with research. Overall, she said, the inconvenience was minimal, and none of the irreplaceable materials were lost. “We caught (the mold) in the early stages,” Lang said.

In March, the city hired Belfor, Inc., to remove all moisture and mold from hundreds of historic and irreplaceable documents. The company's remediation team boxed up all affected items and shipped them off in a truck in April.

Documents from the estate of Elizabeth Stafford Hutchison, a Palestine daughter who became a Washington socialite, a rare collection of Reconstruction Era documents, and numerous Anderson County court records, all had to be cleaned and dried, one page at a time.

Most of the truckload of boxes returned in June has been unpacked, but a couple of dozen are still stacked to the ceiling in Lang's small office in the back of the library.

Library Director Theresa Holden said precautions have been taken to prevent future problems. Four humidifiers have been added to the area to reduce moisture; a humidity gauge is being used to monitor moisture; the roof and ceiling have been repaired; and all the air ducts throughout the library have been cleaned to prevent mold and excess moisture.

Holden said she hopes people who stopped using the Special Collections Room will return – even if they are not using the Special Collections. Nursing students from the adjacent Trinity Valley Community College campus could come to study and talk privately in the Special Collections room, usually the library's quietest room.

“Things are back to normal,” Holden said. “I want our public to come back and use the room.”

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