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," Thomann said.


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," Atkins said.


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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