Library to close after mold outbreak

By Andy Kwalwaser

The University’s Rare Book and Manuscript Library is closing for at least two months after an outbreak of mold put thousands of books in jeopardy. And $800,000 has been allotted from the University for its clean up.

Library officials first discovered the mold last fall and are preparing to clean the 300,000-piece collection item-by-item.

“We had a spike in humidity in the fall, and it triggered the bloom,” said Thomas Teper, associate librarian for collections.

He attributed the mold to warm temperatures and dampness and said those factors were exacerbated by the facility’s decades-old ventilation system.

The library remained open for several months as librarians and administrators planned the clean-up process. According to the National Institutes of Health Web site, mold can cause difficulty breathing and rashes in persons allergic to the spores. However, Teper said a University mycologist, or fungi expert, examined the mold and determined it did not pose a major health threat to individuals with normal immune systems.

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“He advised us for anyone (who) is generally healthy, there should be no significant risk,” Teper said.

Teper said they expect the collection to reopen May 5. Staff members removed the volumes needed by the 31 classes scheduled to take place at the library before then, professor Valerie Hotchkiss said.

“If the average researcher wants a volume, I can’t just walk back through the stacks,” said Hotchkiss, head of the Rare Book and Manuscript Library,

Smaller spates of mold have appeared in the past, Teper said, although this outbreak is believed to be the most severe. Five percent of the collection, or 15,000 books, are thought to be affected.

BMS Catastrophe, a Texas-based company, will manage the treatment to begin at the end of the month.

“We have worked to control the humidity on a temperature basis,” Teper said, adding that the University is still developing preventive measures against future mold.

Old buildings can offer easy environments for mold, said William Rose, a research architect with the Building and Research Council at the School of Architecture.

“Mold is everywhere,” Rose said, who was not a part of the original University inquiry. “Sometimes it can be bothersome, but most of the time it is at a level below detection.”

Shelves, walls and floors will be cleaned, Teper said. The stacks will be partitioned with plastic sheets and each item will be cleaned, vacuumed and examined for mold.

The University is considering ways to renovate the library’s ventilation system, which has never been serviced beyond scheduled maintenance, Teper said.

Library officials contacted the libraries at other universities to determine how other schools have dealt with similar mold problems. Teper said the mold problem is “not as uncommon as we would like to think it is,” but that few officials are willing to openly discuss the threat.

“We’re looking at deferred maintenance,” he said. “We’re still working out the end solution. I would hope we don’t have to do this again.”