Mold Outbreak Threatens 600,000 Books at U. of Missouri Library Facility

Mold has invaded a remote-storage facility used by the University of Missouri Libraries, putting hundreds of thousands of volumes at risk, the Columbia Daily Tribune reported.

All the books in the facility are affected, according to a university spokesman. “We have learned that the entire collection of approximately 600,000 printed volumes in the storage facility is contaminated and must either be treated to eradicate the mold or be disposed to ensure that contamination cannot spread to other collections,” Christian Basi told The Chronicle via email.

The mold does not present a threat to human health, according to Mr. Basi. The books aren’t so lucky. Many probably will not be salvaged.

“Cost to treat the entire collection is estimated to be $1.8-million, which MU does not have,” Mr. Basi said. “At present, we are identifying those materials that are most readily accessible to our users either online or via interlibrary loan so that we can focus our limited funds on treating and retaining materials that are unique, of special value, or held by few libraries within the region or nationally.”

It’s not clear how the mold problem began at the facility, which is operated by a third party, Con-Agg. But the problem dates at least as far back as October, when library staff members “discovered signs of active mold growth on books and bound journals” in the remote-storage facility, Mr. Basi said. The problem was immediately reported, and librarians “have been working to identify the extent of the infestation,” he said.

The Chronicle wasn’t able to reach Jim Cogswell, director of the University of Missouri Libraries, for comment. He told the Tribune that the library has an insurance fund, but it isn’t big enough to pay for all the books to be treated. “We don’t have that kind of money,” he told the newspaper. He said that underfunding had driven the library to rent offsite space to house some of its collections. “We are in this predicament because we had to find a cheap alternative place to put our books in,” Mr. Cogswell said.

Lizanne Payne, a consultant who works closely with libraries, said via email that “in many cases libraries are pressed to find shelving space quickly, and often it turns out to be suboptimal and usually not really designed for books.”

“Most academic libraries,” she added, “really are caught in a serious dilemma right now: still need to acquire new print books, campus libraries out of space, administrations loath to expand libraries or build/expand library-shelving facilities, and faculty saying don’t remove any existing books.”

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