Humidity monitoring helps library protect books
Thursday, Apr 25th 2013

In order to make sure that its books are not further damaged by mold, Union College in Schenectady, New York, installed temperature and humidity monitoring equipment at its library.

When the school renovated Schaffer Library in 1998, Union College officials thought that the region's cooler climate naturally protected its books against mold damage and thus humidity monitoring was not necessary. However, library officials discovered mold growth on approximately 12,000 of its books two years ago. To avoid damaging the texts, Union College shipped all of the books to an off-site facility for cleaning, the school reported.

"These molds can be found on just about any book and for the most part, are pretty dormant," said facilities director Loren Rucinski. "But all it takes is a slight elevation in temperature to make it turn really destructive and that's what we faced. Although harmless to humans, it began to attack books in our collection that had a specific type of binding and was beginning to contaminate other books. Something had to be done."

How humidity monitoring deters mold growth
At research facilities such as libraries, the need to maintain ideal environmental conditions is paramount.  Unlike with research labs where all external variables need to be meticulously monitored in order to prevent calamity, the existing systems in most libraries are typically able to sufficiently deter mold growth. At Union College, the region's cold winters and temperature monitoring equipment used in the summertime ensure that ideal conditions for mold growth are not present throughout most of the year.

However, the school reported that mold was able to propagate during the spring and fall. During these seasons, temperature monitoring is more erratic as the library frequently switches on and off its air conditioning unit. As a result, the temperature was warm enough in Schaffer Library for fungi to grow on the texts.

Today, the library uses humidity monitoring equipment to make sure mold is not present indoors during these seasons. W. J. Kowalski of Penn State University's Department of Architectural Engineering that building managers hoping to deter mold growth should keep internal moisture levels at 60 percent or below, and Schaffer Library maintains 50 percent relative humidity. To make sure internal conditions remain ideal and that facilities managers have total oversight, the environmental monitoring system can be monitored online.

"This has been a truly collaborative project," said college librarian Frances Maloy. "Everyone immediately understood what this situation could mean to our library and everyone involved in finding a solution took ownership of the problem. Even the students were good sports about it, helping to clean books and putting up with temperature swings as we tested out various solutions."