Colorado State University Morgan Library Preserves Bible, Hymnal Damaged in Fire of Historic Virginia Dale Church

After three months of restoration by Colorado State University Libraries’ preservation services staff, the pulpit Bible from Virginia Dale Community Church is returning home. Colorado State Libraries Dean Catherine Murray-Rust and preservation services staff members presented the bible and a preserved hymnal to the parishioners on April 9 in the Morgan Library.

The bible was one of the few salvageable items left after an arson fire destroyed the church on Nov. 15, 2003. The 123-year-old church was part of the Virginia Dale stage stop, a national historic site located north of Fort Collins. Parishioner Norma Dent brought the charred and waterlogged Bible, along with a hymnal in similar condition, to Morgan Library in hope that preservation services could save what was left.

Preservation services staff used the Wei T’o Book Dryer to remove the water from the bible and hymnal. Invented by a chemist with a degree in Library Science, the Wei T’o Book Dryer is a 40-cubic-foot freezer that relies on sublimation – the process by which ice is changed directly to water vapor – to remove moisture from books and papers. Freezing prevents mold from growing while the materials dry. The Wei T’o shares its name with an ancient Chinese god said to protect books against fire, worms, insects and robbers.

Preservation staff member Sam Mitchell has operated the Wei T’o since it arrived at Morgan Library in the 1980s. While adjusting fans and airflow, he positions documents for optimal drying and monitors the freezer’s temperature, which fluctuates when books are added, removed or repositioned. Mitchell uses an instrument called an Aqua-boy to measure moisture content of documents. When the moisture level drops below 15 percent, he removes materials from the Wei T’o and, according to need, places them in a standing book press to reduce warping.

"It’s really an art," said Diane Lunde, preservation services coordinator, of Mitchell’s work. "Sam knows how to keep it all in balance."

The Wei T’o at Morgan Library has been used to restore State Board of Agriculture and Bureau of Land Management records, documents for social service agencies, sheet music collections, collections of vintage toy instruction manuals and Japanese children’s books.

It took three months to dry the Virginia Dale bible, but other documents might require a much longer period. Drying time depends upon density and wetness of the paper.

"We once received a CSU yearbook," said Lunde. "That took a year to dry."

Drying time also is affected by the number and kind of documents sharing the machine. The Wei T’o can accommodate about 200 books.

While use of the Wei T’o generally involves a fee for time and overhead, the Friends of the Colorado State University Libraries is donating these services to the Virginia Dale congregation.

"After experiencing the 1997 flood, Colorado State Libraries is particularly sensitive to the devastating effects of such disasters," said Murray-Rust. "With the return of the Virginia Dale Bible, parishioners will continue to have a tangible connection with their predecessors. The Friends of the Colorado State Libraries are pleased to contribute the conservation of their treasured Bible to our fellow Larimer County residents."

The Virginia Dale church has been reconstructed by local architects, builders and community members who volunteered services and materials. The Bible will not be usable because of the charred portions that cannot be replaced but, after its stay at Morgan Library, it can safely be displayed in the church.

To support the Colorado State Libraries’ preservation and community outreach efforts through The Friends of Colorado State Libraries, contact Susan Hyatt, director of development, Colorado State Libraries, (970) 491-6823 or