Mold leads to elimination of 300,000 MU Libraries' volumes

Friday, January 24, 2014 | 7:43 p.m. CST; updated 4:09 p.m. CST, Saturday, January 25, 2014

COLUMBIA — About 300,000 volumes belonging to MU Libraries will have to be eliminated because of mold contamination, according to a letter emailed to MU faculty and staff on Friday afternoon by Director of Libraries Jim Cogswell.

In October, MU Libraries staff discovered mold growth on about 600,000 volumes in an off-campus library storage facility north of Interstate 70, Cogswell wrote. The volumes must be treated or be destroyed to ensure that contamination cannot spread to other collections.

Cogswell said in an interview that there is only enough money and time to save up to half of the contaminated volumes.

"This affects deeply those of us in libraries who spend our work lives taking care of sources of study and scholarship," Cogswell said. "It goes to the center of everything we try to do. We try to build and expand, not destroy." 

The storage facilities are part of Subtera underground warehousing, said Shannon Cary, communications officer for MU Libraries. MU started moving volumes into the location in 2007, she said. 

No one at Subtera, a part of Con-Agg of MO, LLC Cos., was available for comment mid-afternoon Friday.

Cogswell said in the letter that treating all affected items could cost up to $1.8 million but that the self-insurance fund created by MU Libraries for such disasters is about $700,000.

"We will not get rid of any materials that we are not able to replicate through other means," Cogswell said in the interview. "Some materials are available online, and others we are relying on partner libraries to help us with, as we have done for them in the past."

MU Libraries expects to remediate and keep up to 300,000 volumes from the contaminated materials, according to the letter. The materials must be dealt with quickly and removed to safer storage before warm weather and humidity return.

Cogswell said they are seeking new storage options and intend to move all treated materials before the end of June. To meet the deadline, at least 15,000 volumes will have to be treated and relocated every week. 

"Nothing we consider 'rare' is stored here or else it wouldn't have been in that space," Cary said. "The oldest volumes are from 1740 to 1760."

MU Libraries staff are in the process of determining which volumes need to be retained. The determination will be made on the basis of if the volume is irreplaceable if it cannot be found online or in other libraries.

MU Environmental Health and Safety staff will soon publish the results of testing done to determine the type of mold and assess any possible health risks to employees at the facility, Cogswell said in an interview. 

"Environmental Health and Safety are looking at the mold as well as the chemicals for the possible remediation process," Cogswell said. "We want it to kill mold but not harm anyone who handles the volumes in the future."

MU Libraries will hire an outside company to handle the remediation process, Cogswell said.

A second off-campus storage facility on Lemone Industrial Boulevard is not affected.

Supervising editor is Elizabeth Brixey. 

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Skip Yates January 26, 2014 | 7:20 p.m.

It'd be nice if they offered the public the chance to view and collect some of the books they intend to destroy. I'd love to find a couple of treasures for my library and take the time to clean them myself.

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith January 27, 2014 | 5:57 a.m.

Good idea, Skip, but a better idea would have been to check on the condition of the stored books such that they wouldn't have developed this problem.

Maybe 300,000 books are of no consequence to Ellis Library, but 300,000 books represents nearly three-fifths of the collection at Curtis Wilson library. [Where is Curtis Wilson library? Maybe you should find out.]

If you can't take care of your books, maybe you don't need to have more of them. UMKC, UMSL and MS&T - any or all of them - will be only too happy to assume your funding, and in a New York minute.

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