As documented through extensive press coverage, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s Rare Book and Manuscript Library (RBML) suffered from a mold outbreak during the fall of 2007. The outbreak, which most likely occurred after a spike in humidity, was discovered when one of the Library’s conservators was examining materials in the vault with the Curator of Rare Books.
Over the course of eight months, the staff of the RBML, Preservation & Conservation, Library administration, and Facilities & Services worked closely to establish and implement a remediation plan to combat the outbreak. As with any disaster, the first step taken was to control the environment and assess the extent of the damage so that a proper response could be planned. Temporary dehumidification was installed throughout the vault to control any humidity spikes, and an assessment of the damage was conducted by the Library’s conservation personnel. Due to concerns about the potential human health risks posed by the mold, the Library called in University mycologists, who assessed minimal risk to healthy individuals, as well as positively identified the species of mold as Aspergillus sp.
Once the mold was positively identified, Library conservators undertook an item-level assessment, which required a total of sixty hours to complete, and provided invaluable information. The assessment confirmed that the mold was widespread throughout the two floors of the storage vault, and confirmed that the mold was growing on a full range of materials—vellum, leather, paper, and cloth—and on the oldest to the most recent of the Library’s holdings. It was also determined that mold blooms were present throughout the collection, with particularly high concentrations near the HVAC delivery and return vents. Fortunately, the mold had not reached the point of irreparably damaging any books or manuscripts. Given the highly distributed nature of the outbreak throughout the collection, however, it was determined that the course of action would be two-fold—to clean the entire collection, and the pursue support for long-term improvements to the environment.
Upon receipt of support from the Provost’s Office for the cleaning project and approval of emergency spending authorization, the Library began the detailed preparation for a ten-week project. Taking advantage of the dry winter climate in central Illinois and the safeguard provided by the use of temporary dehumidification, project plans, budgets, and estimates for both in-house and joint in-house/outsourced models were developed and the options were weighed in order to determine which would be the most successful in terms of both recovery and mitigation.
Determining that a joint in-house/outsourced approach was the most appropriate, Texas-based Blackmon-Mooring-Steamatic Catastrophe (BMS CAT) was contracted to complete the cleaning of the collection materials, storage areas, and HVAC systems over a ten-week period. In preparation for the RBML cleaning, personnel from the Library met with the BMS CAT’s representatives, began scheduling HVAC shut downs in preparation for the cleaning, and worked with Facilities & Services personnel to bring a sufficient power supply into the RBML vault to support the cleaning equipment.
Following care and handling training sessions for the contracted personnel (due to the rare and valuable nature of the Library’s collection), cleaning of the HVAC system began the week of February 10th, 2008, under the supervision of RBML and Conservation & Preservation personnel. The air-handling units were cleaned by HEPA vacuuming of all associated surfaces, and then wiped down with an anti-microbial agent (Microban). After the HVAC systems were cleaned, the structure of the library, including ceilings, floors, and walls were also vacuumed and cleaned with an anti-microbial agent. Temporary walls were then established in the RBML vault to compartmentalize the storage space, zones of positive and negative pressure were established to protect cleaned areas from becoming re-contaminated, and, after training by RBML and Conservation personnel, the item level cleaning began.
As the cleaning crew progressed through the vault, follow-up crews of Library staff addressed problem items that the BMS CAT cleaning crews were asked to bag and pass due to fragility; replaced pamphlet binders and clamshells that were previously identified as being particularly susceptible to mold; and stabilized items identified as requiring remedial treatment.
The BMS CAT–contracted cleaning project concluded on May 9thwith a walk-through by BMS CAT supervisors and representatives from the Library Administration, RBML, and Conservation. Overall, the collections, storage furniture, and spaces were significantly cleaner than before the project began, and visible mold growth was notably reduced. However, mold was still identified on some RBML materials during this review. In one instance, where cleaning protocols were obviously not followed, BMS CAT enlisted a small cleaning crew to immediately remedy the identified situation. For other, more isolated instances, individual items are being cleaned by conservation staff as they are identified. Some problems with shelf order have also been identified since the cleaning project ended.
In general, Conservation has felt that the process was very efficient, and could not have been better accomplished by an in-house-only cleaning crew, and most certainly could not have been achieved in the same time span. Though the process was exhausting for all involved in the project, the cleaning was done as quickly and efficiently as possible and has proved a valuable learning experience for Conservation and RBML staff alike.
The University of Illinois’ Rare Book and Manuscript Library holds approximately 300,000 volumes and over 7,100 linear feet of manuscript and archival material. The collection also contains audiovisual media on a wide range of formats, as well as three-dimensional items, including 150 pieces of framed artwork and various artifacts.
The variety of materials housed in the RBML presented considerable challenges for both UIUC staff and the contracted BMS CAT cleaning crews. Warping vellum, decaying leather, fragile paper book jackets, and the many layers within a framed work of art required a great deal of pre-planning by UIUC staff and sensitive handling by BMS CAT crews.
The physical space also offered significant challenges for all involved. The RBML vault comprises two floors with three separate air handling units. Electrical outlets are non-existent in two separate areas, a dumbwaiter provides the only mechanical means for transferring volumes between floors, and compact shelving severely limited the vendor’s ability to work multiple teams in one space at any given time.
Project Wrap Up
The BMS CAT-contracted cleaning project concluded on May 9th with a walkthrough consisting of BMS CAT supervisors and representatives from the Library Administration, RBML and Conservation. Overall, the collections, storage furniture and spaces were remarkably cleaner than before the project began and visible mold growth was significantly reduced. However, mold was still identified on some RBML materials during this review. In one instance, where cleaning protocols were obviously not followed, BMS CAT enlisted a small cleaning crew to immediately remedy the identified situation. For other, more isolated instances, individual items are being cleaned by conservation staff as they are identified. Some problems with shelf order have also been identified since the cleaning project ceased.
In general, Conservation has felt that the process was very efficient and could not have been better accomplished by an in-house cleaning crew, and most certainly could not have been achieved in the same time span. Though the process was harrowing and exhausting for all involved in the project, the cleaning was done as quickly and efficiently as possible and has proved a valuable learning experience for Conservation and RBML staff alike.
HVAC and Duct Cleaning
- Compact shelving
- Lack of electricity in vault area
- No elevator between the two levels
- Various non-book formats
- Framed artwork
- Audiovisual materials
- Nature of materials
- Vellum distortion
UIUC Rare Book Library Closes Due to Mold
from ALA News (02/2008)
Rare Book and Manuscript Library closes to combat mold
from InsideIllinois (02/21/2008)
U of I rare books plagued with mold
from United Press International (02/08/2008)
UIUC’s rare book library attacked by mold
from Daily Illini (02/08/2008)
UIUC’s rare book library attacked by mold
from KHQA (02/08/2008)
The Project In Numbers
- 300,000+ items vacuumed
- 31, 000 yards of string tie
- 6,200 archival pamphlet binders
- 1,100 pairs of gloves
- 1,000 sheets of binder board
- 800 Tyvek suits
- 200 pounds of microfiber cloths
- 25 extension cords
- 20 gallons of Microban
- 12 Microtrap 2000 Air Filtration units
- 8 Nilfisk HEPA vacuums
Thanks to all who helped out during this project:
- University Administration
- University Risk Management
- Library Business Office
- Library Facilities Office
- Library Administration
- Rare Book and Manuscript Library Staff
- Preservation and Conservation Staff
- BMS Catastrophe