Monday, November 15, 2010

Mold and Books

Jim Hinz, Director of Book
Conservation at the
Conservation Center for
Art and Historic Artifacts.

Good news!  Our family books are clean.  There’s no sign of mildew or mold on them, according to Jim Hinz, Director of Book Conservation at the Conservation Center for Art and Historic Artifacts.  I was concerned, as these books had been in a waterlogged house for approximately a week in September 2008 after a second floor toilet supply line broke, flooding our home.  Granted, the condition of these books is far from pristine (they’ve got surface grime, detached spines, and brittle paper), but clean of mold is reason to celebrate.

Mildew and mold are both fungi.  While there are technical botanical differences between them, the difference matters little to a conservator.  They’re both bad for books and bad for people.  You smell their musty odor because their spores release into the air around them as the molds search for new hosts.  But don’t take too deep a sniff.  Molds can trigger serious allergic reactions and aggravate asthma.

I asked Jim what his response would have been if he
Book with mold.
had opened the books and discovered mold.  “You always see a mold bloom,” Jim said.  “They can come in a rainbow of colors.  If left untreated, the mold will eat right through the pages and text.”  With an active mold, you can usually see a white fuzzy growth amid the color.  In situations where there’s a visible mold bloom, the best thing to do is to take the infected books to a conservator.  And until you get to the books to a conservator, you should isolate them.

In a case like mine, where the books had been exposed to some serious humidity and were at-risk for mildew, Jim would recommend setting any moist books upright, fanning out the pages, and drying them out with a hairdryer.  The downside to this is that the pages may cockle, but that’s preferable to the risk of mold.

Most home remedies for mold (many of which are touted on the internet) are ineffective because they don’t stop the mold spores.  Beware of solutions that just cover up the mold smell with some mildly preferable aroma, like baking soda.  The mold will continue its relentless work.

Our books were in the house when it was thoroughly dried out (huge fans running in all the rooms) and this was probably good for them.  Then the books were packed up into boxes and shipped out for storage.  The storage building was kept at a low constant temperature--and that was in our favor, too.  Molds like humidity and high temperatures.  In the end our books lucked out, emerging unscathed from potential mold disaster.

© 2010 Lee Price

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