The General Collections Conservation unit of Indiana University Library’s E. Lingle Craig Preservation Lab treats an average of 13,000 items per year. Treatment may be as simple as reinserting single pages that have come loose to completely rebuilding and repairing a 300-year-old monograph. However, several times each year the Lab is sent items in a red biohazard bag; these require special handling or disposal. Often the contents of these bags are books thought to be hosting active mold growth, and the Craig Lab staff is asked to assess the item and decide whether it can be saved or needs to be withdrawn. This, Tale of Two Books, is an overview of the steps we follow when a monograph shows up that has mold and will give you an idea of the process we use to remediate this problem when the item is important enough to warrant the time and effort.
Usually the circulation desk staff will notify the Lab when a book that they suspect has mold is being sent to the Lab so we know to be looking for it. However, sometimes we do not know what the problem might be until we open the bag. Fortunately, red biohazard bags are hard to miss, so when one shows up we know to take special care in handling its contents. While we are not overly concerned with the supposed toxicity of mold, neither are we careless with it. Mold can trigger unpleasant allergy-like reactions and/or contaminate workspaces if its presence is extensive. Also, some books may have other, potentially more hazardous issues. Therefore, the contents of these bags are dealt with either in a controlled environment such as an exhaust hood or outdoors where there is unlimited air exchange.
About 25% of the time, the problem that was sent to us as mold turns out to be either just dirt or ink that has run, or a combination of the two. We appreciate this as erring on the side of caution. A more casual attitude on the sender’s part could result in our dealing with a major mold infestation in a collection space, so we do not mind receiving an occasional “false alarm” book.