Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Giving up mold for Lent

IT'S ASH WEDNESDAY, a day or two shy of three months since the Big Leak. We're celebrating by moving an undamaged table and chairs into the Spearman Room. There is a lot more to do before we can close the book, so to speak, on the Disaster of '10, but at least I can say we're done with mold.

Green mold, black mold, white mold, and other interesting colors emanating from mold. I didn't know that the pastel hues we noticed on damaged endpapers -- pink, yellow, lavender and a delicate celandon -- were actually mold souvenirs, "excrement," in the pungent diagnosis of an expert.

Day after day, page after page, my volunteer Mary Marshall and I plied our little spore-trapping vacuum cleaner and had the satisfaction of watching thick layers of dried mold being sucked away. In the process we also cleaned up the dirt and debris of centuries, in some cases: Half the pages of Volume XI of the works St. Augustine (1689) were coated with fine, white sand, as if a seminarian had taken the big folio to the beach for some summer reading.

The colorful mold stains remain as reminders of what happens when an old building leaks. But these are merely the latest ones. Among our rare books are many ancient stains that tell the stories of other buildings, other leaks. I pity those poor librarians who didn't have HEPA vacuum cleaners.

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