FL MORRIS / FMORRIS@STARBULLETIN.COM
Angelica Anguiano, left, a paper conservator, holds one of the maps going through the preservation process in Hamilton Library at the University of Hawaii at Manoa.
Preservationists work to save UH's cache of flood-damaged maps
Lynn Ann Davis remembers the raised eyebrows when her preservation department asked the University of Hawaii for funding for a cheese grater.
"They probably thought we were making tacos," Davis said.
But the grater has played an integral role in the department's mission for the past four years: conserving tens of thousands of flood-damaged maps.
In 2004, heavy rain caused multimillion-dollar flood damage to the Manoa area, including Hamilton Library. Since then a staff of 10 has restored about 10,000 maps, with 40,000 sent off for work at a mainland contractor.
Davis said it is not yet known how many maps were damaged in the flood, because there was no inventory. Currently the staff is taking inventory as the maps are worked on.
"We've had map drawers with 800 maps in them," Davis said. "Everything is a guess. We'll know when we're finished."
Five of the staffers are paid for by FEMA disaster relief funds. The funding ends June 30. Davis said the maps should be restored by then, leaving only aerial photos to complete.
Right after the floods, the preservation department worked quickly to store all the maps in five freezer containers to prevent mold growth.
The temperatures cause the mud and clay to freeze into fernlike patterns called dendritic patterns.
The maps are usually placed on spun polyester to prevent tearing, and are washed in a large sink. They are then stacked between boards and dried with a specialized fan.
If the maps still curl or roll after drying, the department has a humidifier dome that encases the paper, and moisture is gradually introduced to flatten the map.
Maps that are ripped or torn undergo leaf casting, or using paper pulp to fill the holes in the maps.
But some maps have water-soluble ink, and that is where the cheese grater comes into play. Conservation technicians grate erasers and use the crumbs to wipe the mud away from the map.
Kyle Hamada was once a civil engineering student at the university, and constructed many of the racks the department uses to hold the maps. After rubbing millions of eraser crumbs on thousands of maps, his hands are smoother than the paper he works on.
Hamada, 30, started working at the department when he was a freshman at the university in 1996. He was a gas station attendant and worked for a mobile disco party business but wanted to find a job on campus instead.
"My friend and I figured, 'Let's go to the library because it has air conditioning,'" he said. "I didn't know what I was in for."
Hamada will be among those detailing the process for the public. The department will give a presentation on its conservation treatments to the public Wednesday.
"When I talk to people and they find out where I work, they always ask what happened to the maps," Davis said. "We'll be doing the before and after to show how much you can do with paper conservation. It's almost a miracle."
Finding your way
The University of Hawaii's Hamilton Library preservation department will be showing how it was able to restore maps damaged by the 2004 Manoa flood.
» When: 5 p.m. Wednesday
» Where: University archives reading room, fifth floor, Room A-550; and preservation department, fifth floor, room R-552 in the library's addition