Journalism library battles moldy mess

Work is under way to stop the spread of mold, but books are not available.
Thursday, August 31, 2006 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 5:22 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

[Note: this story has been modified since its original posting.]


Lindsey Forsythe works in MU’s Neff Annex on Tuesday. Leaky air conditioners have caused tiles to fall out.


There is nothing quite like the smell of old books. Their aroma conjures feelings of knowledge, wisdom and history. The strength of their spines is a tangible manifestation of quality held within. So when books, old or new, feel fuzzy and smell of wet cardboard, it is cause for concern.

The MU journalism library in Neff Annex is closed for at least the next few weeks due to last week’s discovery of an undisclosed number of moldy books. Journalism professor Berkley Hudson described the mold as “fuzzy white film on some of the spines.”

Library officials said that the mold is due to the combination of a broken air conditioner and recent hot temperatures and high humidity.

While the air conditioner has been fixed, librarians and MU’s department of environmental health and safety are still assessing the damage to the library.

“We’re going on a book-by-book basis,” said Christian Basi, a spokesperson for MU. “The mold is significant, and right now, we are just trying to figure out if it is simply a matter of cleaning and sanitizing, or if we will have to destroy certain volumes.”

Anyone who wanders down the basement hallway of Neff Annex is warned of the danger. The sign on the library door informs passers-by: “We have mold in our stacks, so if you have allergies, be aware.” While people can enter the library, they cannot get to the books.

The small library is already cramped with its stacks, but with the addition of cleaning solutions, dehumidifiers, fans and plastic-covered ceiling openings, the space feels more like a bio-hazard zone than a place of knowledge.

Since the problem was discovered, library staff have been working to clean up the affected books and prevent the mold from spreading.

Basi said that MU is aware of the health concerns to library employees and others in the building.

“We do understand that some people are sensitive to mold, and this is another reason why we restricted access,” he said.

Dennis Elmore, industrial hygiene and occupational safety manager at MU, said he visited library staff to offer advice on addressing health concerns.

“I’m happy they called us, and they were right to call us,” Elmore said.

In order for mold to grow, the most important ingredient is water. The amount of moisture that is present in the air is measured in relative humidity (RH), and if the RH level exceeds 70 percent for an extended period of time, mold growth is “almost inevitable,” according to the Northeast Document Conservation Center, a nonprofit associated with book and library preservation.

The circulation desk remains open to serve students and staff requests. Library staff is sending books checked out before the mold was discovered to Ellis Library — the main campus library — where they will be “shelved until they can go home to journalism,” Basi said.

According to the journalism library’s Web site, approximately 30 percent of the journalism school’s book collection is being stored separately while renovations to Walter Williams Hall are in progress.

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