Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Science lab

LOS ANGELES' EPIC RAINS and consequent flood in the Archives were two months ago this week. Being tied up with one thing and another (like a presidential search committee), I'm finally getting the chance to get a good look at the damage.

Total number of books affected: about 50. Total volume of archives affected: about 4 linear feet. Total losses: about half a dozen old Bibles and a box of folders.

All in all, not too bad. Chatting with my friends in the profession, it's not all that unusual to hear about entire rooms that have developed mold. Many of our books just need a good once-over with a special spore-trapping vacuum cleaner and they can go back on the shelves. Others will require more extensive (and expensive) treatment, but this is the College's patrimony (better, matrimony) and worth every dime.

The science experiment aspect of it is pretty interesting, too. All that literature about the proverbial "cool, dry place" is correct: Once you venture out of the 68 degrees, 40% humidity ranges you're asking for a blooming garden of moldy trouble.

I knew we were in for it back on Dec. 29 when my little hygrometer recorded 99% relative humidity and a maximum temperature of 78 degrees. This lovely specimen, above, is on Vol. X of the works of St. Augustine, ca. 1685. Mold goes dormant stays that way for a long time. This stuff may be the lineal descendant of mold that was introduced centuries ago.

The triage continues. I'm deciding now which books are headed for the trash bin (the ones that can be replaced for less than $40), which get to go home soon, and which will get patched up in a book hospital somewhere. Along the way I've discovered a couple of certified treasures. All of it is part of the Mount's long heritage and worth preserving for future generations of students. Except for St. Augustine's mold, of course. That's really gotta go.


  1. I'm so sorry to hear about the damage to your collection. I can't imagine having to deal with that level of destruction.

    I'm currently an archival student at UCLA, and I'm working on a paper involving deaccessioning and reappraisal of records. If you would be willing, I would love to use your institution as a case study, and ask you a few questions about the steps you're taking and what they will mean for your collection. If that wouldn't be too much trouble, you can reach me at smith(dot)jessica(dot)lyn(at)gmail(dot)com.

  2. The saints and guardian angels never sleep, Vicky. I am glad you are keeping the Mount treasures safe. And I'll take anything of St. Augustine's, even if it is mold.