A couple of weeks ago, we were informed by the Stacks Department that we would be receiving a couple of shelves of books that had a mystery substance splattered on them. “Oh, great,” we thought, “what could it be this time?” Working in an academic library, you just never know what you are going to come across. When the books arrived we quickly realized that there were quite a bit more than originally thought – 276 volumes, to be exact, and most had the strange substance splattered on them. It was reddish orange in color – what could it be? We had been told that there was also a spot of the mystery substance on the carpet in the aisle where these books were located. Was it a cup of tomato soup a patron had dropped? Too light to be blood – thank goodness! What could it be?

mystery substance

Since our student workers were gone for the day, I was the lucky one who got to clean these lovelies. I donned my latex gloves, grabbed some damp paper towels, and went to work cleaning what I could off of the books. The books with slick covers were very easy to clean, but those with cloth covers were not. There is still evidence of the splatters on those with cloth covers, as well as on items whose text blocks were spattered.

Twice as I was cleaning, I swore I got a whiff of BBQ sauce. That’s it! That’s what it was! Some student thought it would be fun to stomp on a BBQ sauce packet (easily found at The Hub next door) and spray BBQ sauce all over the books, leaving a nice spot on the floor. I was very proud that I had figured out the mystery. My coworkers agreed that was likely what happened. Oh, but wait, a couple of days later it was revealed that my theory was in fact wrong! What was it, you ask? Well, it was actually an older sprinkler head that was leaking rusty water! It was leaking onto the carpet and when the carpet was saturated enough, it started splattering up onto the surrounding books.

I haven’t heard an update ,but I am assuming the leaky sprinkler head has been taken care of, since we haven’t received any more books with rusty water splattered on them. It just goes to show you never know what is going to enter the lab on any given day. Even though we may cringe at some of the items, it really does make our job quite interesting.