Working in an archive, one often finds exciting, unexpected things. However, last week, while processing our collection of Fire Department Records, I came across something no archivist wants to find in their collection. One of our 20th Century ledgers has fallen prey to the insidious, dreaded MOLD. In the picture at right, you can see one of the most damaged pages. The black and green splashes on the page are active mold (active molds are soft and fuzzy, while dormant molds have a dry, powdery texture). This volume also has extensive water damage, as demonstrated by the water stains and the running of the blue and red inks. (This past water trauma is probably the source of our current mold dilemma.)
Our preservation specialist, Liz, immediately wrapped the stricken volume in brown paper and quarantined it away from the rest of the collection, while I thoroughly cleaned the shelves and work areas where the item was being housed and processed. Cleanliness is extremely important when dealing with mold, as it ensures that the spores do not spread to other volumes.
On Friday, Liz and I set about cleaning the offending volume. We used a HEPA-filtered vacuum and a wide, soft-bristled brush to clean each and every page. The mold had invaded nearly every portion of the ledger, including the binding and the boards. We had to disbind the book to get into every crevice, but the end result is that approximately 465 of the 500 pages can be salvaged. The remaining pages, which are all at the end of the book, will require further conservation and may or may not make it.
Mold is a very serious problem as it not only damages collections, but can also pose a health risk. Therefore, it is imperative to take the necessary precautions when dealing with mold. The picture at left shows the gear Liz and I wore during our mold outing, which includes a filtered respirator, disposable gown, and latex gloves. The HEPA-filtered vacuum is necessary to contain particles (a regular vacuum would simply kick the mold spores back into the air). We also worked outside for maximum ventilation and materials isolation.
Please remember, this sort of work should only be tackled by a preservation professional. The library is fortunate to have Liz, who has years of professional experience and training in preservation. If you discover mold in your own collection, you should consult a preservation professional immediately. Do not attempt to clean the items yourself, as it may lead to further damage to the materials and illness for yourself.
For further information on salvaging moldy materials, click here for an excellent pamphlet from the Northeast Document Conservation Center.