Over the years, we have introduced and highlighted our many wonderful students and interns in the Preservation Department. They perform an immense amount of work, and work that is often mundane or sometimes just icky. Our students have helped us slog through hundreds of fishy smelling architectural drawings after the 2010 floods, they vacuum mold, and they help keep us young.
This time I would like to recognize and thank students that work in the Stacks Management unit. Last week Rylie Pflughaupt, Rebecca Schmid, and Megan Primorse were shifting a portion of our general collection and discovered what they thought was mold on some of our books. Our Stacks students are trained to look for signs of mold, water leaks, and other library concerns, while they are shelving and shifting, and they have certainly caught many problems throughout the years. This time their focus and training alerted us to a mold problem that affected three floors of open stacks. After being alerted to the mold, Stacks and Preservation students also helped us do a walk-through of stacks areas serviced by the same air handler to identify other books with mold.
What our Stacks students found looked like a powdery residue on certain books scattered throughout 44,000 volumes. These were not obviously moldy books with entire areas covered in fuzzy, full bloom mold. These looked more like books with old, failed book tape adhesive on the spines or just seriously dusty books.
The other mold pattern was a little more obvious. The mold formed clumps or dots that were more three-dimensional. Under magnification you could see the interconnected network and what looked like sporangiophore and sporangium.
Our Environmental Health and Safety staff took tape samples off of our books and vents and identified three types of mold in the area. Facilities Planning and Management identified a valve stuck open on a humidification unit, and dampers that were not responding properly. Although we do not know exactly when this bloom happened, looking at our temperature and relative humidity data, we think it happened in late July when the temperature spiked for three days with the corresponding drop in relative humidity and then just as quickly the temperature dropped with the relative humidity spiking, creating warm air and cool surfaces for condensation.
This may finally be the event that makes everyone including Facilities Planning and Management take notice. Deferred maintenance (waiting for something to break) of the library HVAC system is not adequate. With all of the additions to the building and expansion of the existing HVAC system and air handling units, environmental conditions in the stacks areas cannot be kept stable under reasonable conditions especially when the system is not functioning at or near 100%. After years of charts and graphs and complaints from Preservation, progress may actually be made because of three observant Stacks students alerting their supervisor to possible mold in the stacks.