About 200 art books were damaged several weeks ago by an unknown liquid that was placed in the ceiling tiles in the Goldfarb Library and spilled down on to shelves on the fourth floor of the Farber Library. In addition, the library staff recently discovered that a rare 1884 edition of The Raven by Edgar Allan Poe was defaced, though they do not know when, wrote Vice Provost, University Librarian and Chief Information Officer John Unsworth in an email to the Justice. He wrote that he guessed “the combined cost of remediation and replacement in these two incidents is in excess of $20,000.”

These books are some of the most expensive items in the open collection in the library.

The books were splashed in the liquid when it spilled through a diffuser in the ceiling, which caused the books and pages to get stuck together, wrote Erin Jerome, the Access and Commons Services lead, in an email to the Justice.

Though library staff members are unsure what the liquid was and originally thought it was hot chocolate, they now think it was Bailey’s Irish Cream after finding several empty bottles in a trash can on Farber 3. “It seems more likely that someone would want to hide an alcoholic drink in the ceiling than a regular hot chocolate,” Jerome wrote.

Preservation Officer Leslie Reicher was out of the office at the time, so Jerome wrote that she called the New England Document Conservation Center emergency hotline, and they told her that the books had to be frozen to prevent further damage, to avoid the books drying out and molding.

Jerome wrote that she and her student staff wrapped each book individually in parchment paper and put them in boxes, which they then took to a walk-in freezer in the Usdan Dining Hall.

Each week since the incident, Reicher has pulled a box of books out of the freezer and worked to restore them to better condition, wrote Jerome.

Jerome was unsure of how many books were damaged beyond repair.

Other library staff members involved did not respond to request for comment by press time.

—Hannah Wulkan