Out, Damned Mold! Indiana University Libraries Moving Image Archive Visits the Preservation Lab

The E. Lingle Craig Preservation Lab is located in the Ruth Lilly Auxiliary Library Facility (ALF), neighboring the Indiana University Libraries Moving Image Archive (IULMIA or “illumia”). And, like all good neighbors, the Preservation Lab came to IULMIA’s aid when we needed them.  We wish it was for something as charming as a cup of sugar, but sadly IULMIA’s mission was far more unappealing:  mold removal.

IULMIA is home to over 70,000 films spanning nearly 80 years of film production, and the majority of these items are acetate-based.  In addition to chemical decomposition from vinegar syndrome, acetate based films are susceptible to mold growth if stored at inappropriate temperatures or humidity.  Polyester films are also susceptible to mold growth, though thankfully not vinegar syndrome.  IULMIA is fortunate enough to be stationed in the state-of-the-art ALF, which maintains a consistent temperature of 50 degrees Fahrenheit and a stable relative humidity of 30 percent. Within this environment, the unique treasures of the collections can be preserved for hundreds of years, and this temperature and humidity can slow down and even halt entirely the growth of mold on film.  While processing a new collection of 2,000 films that arrived at the ALF in early 2014  IULMIA staff encountered a small number of films with evidence of slight mold growth.  Among these items were 16mm prints of David Wolper’s, The Making of the President 1960, Francis Thompson’s 1957 N.Y. N.Y. and the 1978 Will Vinton documentary, Claymation. Mold can be dangerous if inhaled, and so we were faced with outsourcing the cleaning of the films to ensure staff and patron safety, or to discard the infected items.

We decided to take advantage of working next door to one of the most impressive preservation labs in the country and consulted with Paper Conservator Doug Sanders.  With Doug’s expertise, we clarified that the mold was “dead” (that is, it would not fruit any more while stored in proper archival conditions) and able to be treated safely in the Lab.  Not only did Doug give us a great primer in best practice techniques for handling moldy archival items, but he also offered us the Preservation Lab to treat and clean the films. This consisted of dislodging the mold growth from the tightly-wound film reels with small paintbrushes, vacuuming the dislocated growth from the reels under a fume hood, and cleaning the remaining “infected” area with 99.9% isopropyl alcohol.  IULMIA staff were hugely interested in the techniques of conservation, which are a mix of craftsmanship (whittling wooden applicators and applying cotton to create incredibly precise Q-tips), science (Doug and his team discussed the chemical properties of metal, gelatin, and ink during our training), and good old fashioned resourcefulness (the vacuum used by the Lab was not originally for preservation of paper, but rather a medical supply for removing mucus from human patients). This creativity reminded us of the film archive world, where machines and supplies are often dwindling or repurposed due to the status of film as an “obsolete” medium.

Due to the Lab’s skillful training, we safely and efficiently completed cleaning the mold from a cartload of films in one morning.  This short but fruitful collaboration with the Lab was an important step in maintaining our materials for patrons and researchers visiting the IULMIA in the future.

film folks small film inspection

Guest Bloggers: Asia Harman, Josephine McRobbie, and Seth Mitter

Tale of Two Books

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.

Continue reading “Tale of Two Books”