Mold discovery shuts down library
Vesic Library to reopen after specialists clean affected books
by Andrew Card
November 05, 2002
An unlikely foe has recently barred students and faculty members from entering
sections of the Vesic Library for Engineering, Mathematics and Physics--mold.
Mold discovered on an unspecified number of books in early October caused University
officials to seal-off the library's first and third floors, which contain about
100,000 volumes of material in the physical sciences and mathematics.
"The presence of mold on the books can be attributed to the relatively
high levels of humidity in the stack area," said director of Occupational
and Environmental Safety Wayne Thomann. "If you get high enough water activity
in the bindings, that will create mold."
Stressing that the stacks in Vesic were closed merely as a precautionary measure,
Winston Atkins, a preservation officer for the Duke library system, said contact
with the mold would not pose an imminent threat.
Exposure to mold can result in a variety of reactions, including coughing, sneezing,
eye irritation and the onset of asthma attacks. Thomann said the only health-related
problems yet to result from exposure to the mold involved a librarian and another
Duke employee who both experienced brief periods of eye irritation.
"We did not have a concern with the general air levels, but if someone
picked up a book with mold on it, he or she could have a more significant exposure,"
Vesic is not the first Duke library to fall victim to mold infestation. University
Librarian David Ferriero said that mold was discovered in the School of Law
Library as recently as five years ago, and in the Divinity School stacks just
this past summer.
"We are now looking at the relative humidity in all the libraries,"
Thomann said. "The question we need to answer is whether or not something
altered the relative humidity in the buildings to cause mold to form. It is
not human error, but may be a system failure."
The stack closure has become an inconvenience for students, faculty members
and library employees, who must now rely on arrangements with the libraries
at North Carolina State University, the University of North Carolina at Chapel
Hill and North Carolina Central University to obtain books and photocopies of
articles. Requested materials usually arrive within four days.
"What's great about being in the Research Triangle area is that there are
so many strong libraries nearby, and we have always worked cooperatively,"
Officials have not yet announced a date for reopening the first and third floors
of Vesic, nor have they determined the best way to remove the mold. A project
team comprising individuals from the Vesic staff, the Facilities Management
Department, the Occupational and Environmental Safety Office and the Pratt School
of Engineering will soon begin evaluating bids from vendors who specialize in
mold removal. "The main decision to be made is whether to have the books
cleaned on site, or take them elsewhere," Atkins said.
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