Mold Temporarily Closes Parts Of Engineering Library

Mold found on books has prompted Duke University officials to temporarily close the first and third floors of the Vesic Library for Engineering, Mathematics and Physics.

Officials add they do not believe the mold presents any significant health risks to librarians, students or faculty, but have decided to close those sections as a precaution until the books can be cleaned and the cause has been identified, said Wayne Thomann, director of Occupational and Environmental Safety at Duke.

The mold was discovered in early October by librarians. "When the library staff discovered this, they reported it immediately. We came out right away to look at it, and it appeared to be a new occurrence, not a long-standing problem," Thomann said in an interview Nov. 1. "We’re dealing with this in a way that minimizes potential health effects. We’re also sensitive to the fact that the library is an important resource and we’re trying to move this process along as quickly as possible."

Air samples taken inside the library found that mold levels "were within an acceptable range," Thomann said. "We did not have a concern with the general air levels, but if someone picked up a book that had mold on it, he or she could have a more significant exposure."

For people who are sensitive to mold, exposure could result in coughing, sneezing, eye irritation or even an asthma attack. Thomann said a librarian and a Duke employee experienced eye irritation shortly after the mold was discovered, but there have been no other reports of health problems.

Winston Atkins, preservation officer for Duke University Libraries, said the relative humidity in libraries is maintained around 40 percent. Engineers are now trying to determine why the relative humidity in Vesic Library rose above 60 percent.

Atkins said roughly 100,000 volumes have been sealed off, although the number of books with mold is much smaller than that. "Most of the books will be cleaned as a precaution," he said.

Arrangements have been made with the libraries at North Carolina State University, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and North Carolina Central University to expedite book loan requests and photocopies of articles, Atkins said.

"We want to reopen as soon as possible. Making books and journals available to students and faculty is very important to us," Atkins said. "What’s great about being in the Research Triangle area is there are so many strong libraries nearby and we have always worked cooperatively."

University Librarian David Ferriero said this is not the first time that mold has been discovered on books at Duke. He said mold was found in the law library four or five years ago, and in the divinity school library this past summer.

"Mold is a problem in the South anyway, but when there is a change in temperature, books, journals and bindings don’t do very well," Ferriero said.

The Vesic Library is located in the Nello L. Teer Engineering Library Building, which opened in 1984 and is named for a Durham businessman whose construction firm did much of the site preparation work for West Campus.