Help!  There is a mouse in my house and he is building his own.  One nice fall day, I discovered the calling cards of a mouse.  He hadn’t left them in the kitchen or storage room where one would expect him to be filling up on food.  I found his trail in my extra bedroom, the room where I have my loom and all of the yarn I have stored for future projects.  Now my task was to beat him at the game, track him down, and eliminate him.

Mouse nest.

Mouse nest.

My first step was a trip to the store to buy as many mouse traps as possible and some peanut butter to use as bait.  Once back home, I loaded on the bait and set the traps, scattering them around the house, but concentrating them in the extra room.  The next day I checked the traps and found the mouse dead on the trap in my yarn closet.  He was the plumpest mouse I have ever seen.  No wonder: he had been eating the rice which filled the neck warmer I had received as a gift.

Cleaning the closet was a slow and tedious job, removing all of the yarn to vacuum up the rice and calling cards.  Amongst the yarn, the house of the mouse was found.  He had helped himself to the soft and pretty alpaca and mohair yarns, a little bit of blue, a bit of pink, some gray and white.  Small pieces taken from the middle of the skeins and pulled apart to create a fluff ball of camouflage yarn for a cozy winter retreat.

New plastic bin for yarn storage.

New plastic bin for yarn storage.

Once the closet and yarn was cleaned and sorted, I made another trip to the store to purchase clear plastic storage containers and dryer sheets, the stronger the scent the better.  With the containers being clear, it is easy to see what is stored within the tote.  The tight-fitting lid will help to keep out unwanted house guests.  The dryer sheets also help to keep the mice away when placed on the outside of the totes.

The clear plastic storage bin means there will be no surprises when the bin is opened!

The clear plastic storage bin means there will be no surprises when the bin is opened!

The most important lesson I learned is to keep the doors to the outside shut, even if it means sounding like my mother, “SHUT THE DOOR!”

Lessons learned:

  • Don’t store grain-filled items in rooms other than the kitchen or pantry.
  • When a mouse is caught, call someone to remove the trap intact with the mouse and deposit it in the trash.  If no one is available to help, a shovel will do the job to scoop up the rodent and trap and deposit all in a trash bag.
  • Store yarn in a clear plastic bin with a tight-fitting lid.  This will allow you to see what yarn is being stored and impede the path of the mouse to gain access to the soft and beautiful building materials.
  • Scented dryer sheets help to repel mice and can be placed around the closet on the outside of the totes.
  • Good storage practices are vital for safe and clean storage of yarn.
  • Shut the Door!

1091map1This month’s 1091 Project addresses that bane of every library and archives conservator: mold. Whether the mold is black, white, green, magenta, or yellow, it is all treated the same way: with caution and immediate action. The mold that we deal with in the lab comes from three main sources:

  1. newly acquired items for Special Collections and Archives which are valued highly enough to make dealing with mold worth the trouble;
  2. items returning from circulation which were not cared for properly by the borrowing patrons;
  3. mold outbreaks in the collection, which could be caused by a leaky roof or water pipe, or extreme humidity in situations when the HVAC breaks down.

Asexual fruiting structure of Aspergillus.

The “sniff test” is a pretty reliable indicator of mold, but technician Mindy Moe rightly scolds me whenever she sees me lifting a suspect book to my nose. Mold spores, even if dormant, find the warm, moist environment of human nasal passages and lungs to be a cozy place to take up residence. Repeated exposure to mold can also lead to sensitivities and allergies which, in the most extreme cases, can induce life-threatening allergic reactions. So, we always take a little extra precaution when dealing with the fuzzy stuff. Mold can be identified by a visual inspection under magnification, especially under raking light. If a visual examination is inconclusive because the spores are in a dormant phase, or the spot is a residual stain, then the presence of mold can be confirmed by examining the item under UV light, which causes mold hyphae to fluoresce rather dramatically.


Mold hyphae fluorescing under UV light.

The minimum PPE (personal protective equipment) for dealing with mold includes glasses or goggles, a lab coat (and in general keeping as much skin covered as possible), latex or nitrile gloves, and a P95 or P100 disposable respirator.


PPE for mold mitigation.


Nilfisk HEPA vacuum for mold removal.

Once personal precautions have been taken, we act. In the case of situations 1 or 2 described above, we are usually dealing with just a few items at a time. The moldy items are first isolated from the rest of the collection, and then assessed for damage. In the case of circulating items which have been returned to the Library with significant mold damage, we usually discard the item entirely and charge the patron to replace it.

In the case of Special Collections and Archives materials, we keep the moldy items quarantined until they can be vacuumed under the fume hood with a special vacuum fitted with a HEPA filter. We try to minimize the amount of moldy items we accept because our staffing levels allow us only 1 to 2 hours per week on our “mold workflow.” Items which have been treated for mold are affixed with a small label saying so, along with the date. In part this is to inform patrons about a potential health risk, and in part this helps us keep track of which items might be making repeat visits to the lab.

Situation 3, a mold outbreak in the collection, is dealt with in a slightly different manner. In the case of an active mold outbreak, the first step is not only to isolate the affected materials as quickly as possible, but also, if possible, to make the active bloom go dormant. We wrap items loosely in waxed paper and put them in one of our conservation freezers. The low temperature and humidity in the freezer will cause the mold to go dormant within a few days. Once the infestation is dormant, the items can be removed from the freezer and vacuumed — and treated further, if necessary — in small, manageable batches.

Mold-infested collection materials in the freezer.

Mold-infested collection materials in the freezer.

Meanwhile, the environmental conditions which caused the mold outbreak in the first place must be dealt with swiftly to prevent it from spreading throughout the collection. Leaking or standing water must be stopped and mopped up, while humidity and temperature levels must be brought into a safe range, and the ventilation checked.  We also have a couple of portable HEPA vacuums for vacuuming mold on-site.

Portable 3M HEPA vacuum for mold.

Portable 3M HEPA vacuum for mold.

In the case of a large mold outbreak affecting thousands of items, we would be too understaffed and under-equipped to cope, so we have vendor contracts in place to work with a professional recovery company under those circumstances.

Let’s head over to Preservation Underground to see how they feel about mold in the Duke University Libraries Conservation Department.


Keeping the workspace clean might seem like a routine task which would be easy to accomplish. In the Library, dusting shelves and desk tops is routine.  However, there are plenty of areas which are not so easily reachable or often thought of when cleaning.  Time goes by and these areas continue to collect dust, which grows as fast as rabbits multiply.


When an event takes place which disturbs the collected dust, the dust bunnies go flying!  We had a few days this past summer when the air handlers were not working in the part of the library containing most of our offices.  Staff opened the few windows that we have in the area.  When the door to the room was opened, the dust bunnies were on the move!  It looked like I was standing by a cottonwood tree on a windy day.  The areas we had not been dusting had come alive.  My black dress had white, irregular polka dots.  The book I was preparing for reformatting had dust bunnies landing on the pages being cleaned.  Luckily, I was not mending the pages with paste or mending tape.


All of this made it clear that doing a thorough cleaning frequently is important.  One never knows when the circumstances will be such that the dust bunnies will multiply and fly.



We’ve all seen them.  Books returned to the library have been tasty treats for cats, dogs, rodents, and even rabbits.  The World of Wolves came into my hands with two corners chewed on by a dog.  You can usually tell a book has been chewed by an animal by the stiffness in the pages from the saliva, and the size of the tooth marks suggests what kind of animal.  This book needed both damaged corners replaced with new binder’s board and book cloth to closely match the original cover.  Luckily, the text block was barely chewed so no work was required there.


I first removed the damaged end sheet and carefully peeled back the paper cover enough so I could get good access to the corners to remove the damaged board.  I cut small pieces of binder’s board to match the thickness of the original board and peeled back layers on each corner, so I could stagger the layers and glue the two new corners on.  Next, I cleaned up the existing cover and cut away chewed parts.  I then glued on the new book cloth, which I think matches pretty well.  I pressed the corners well for a good, tight fit and then added a new end sheet and ISU property stamp label.  I was pretty pleased with the outcome of this book.


A Friday afternoon wouldn’t be normal without something out of the norm happening right before closing time.  A couple of weeks ago, I got a frantic call from Special Collections informing me that they had an unusual critter stuck in one of their sticky traps.  As the resident “bug lady,” I grabbed a plastic bag, and our volunteer Martha grabbed some latex gloves.  Then we made our way over to see what lovely creature was paying our co-workers a visit.


A bat! Not the typical small spider or lady beetle that I occasionally find in my sticky traps.

According to the Iowa State Extension website, Iowa bats are the size of a mouse or smaller and weigh about half an ounce.  Iowa bats feast on insects – they can eat up to 2000 mosquitoes on a warm summer night!  I can only guess that this fellow managed to get in and needed some chow to settle a rumbling tummy.



We are unsure how he made his way into Special Collections, but I have come to find out that he is not the first bat to find its way into the Library.  There have also been reports of the occasional bat in our loading dock area.  We all know that pests in libraries are not a good thing, but I will confess that he was kind of cute and a nice change from the usual bugs, although I hope his buddies keep their distance!

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