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Book with unknown substance on it – mold?

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    • #134908
      Asita A.

      I came across a book in special collections that looks very suspicious, Initially I was worried it might be mold, but when I looked at it up close I’m not so sure. It doesn’t smell like mold, there is a very faint musty smell, but I think that’s because the book is a 1895 publication. The book itself was water damaged at some point, but it almost looks like baking powder or corn starch to me. My hypothesis is the book was water damaged, and someone tried to remedy the problem with whatever the white substance is.

      I have temporarily removed it from special collections, but I’m unsure what to do with the book in question. Any help/suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

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    • #134923
      Kaela Nurmi

      Hi Asita,

      Your initial move to remove the book from special collections was a good idea. I would also suggest placing the book in a sealed archival plastic bag until you can determine what the white powder is. This will prevent any spread of the substance and keep it out of the air if it is in fact toxic. Also just as a precaution, I would refrain from handling the book until we can figure out what it is!

      I have reached out to a few experts and hope to hear some more detailed responses soon.

      All the best,


    • #134930
      Asita A.

      Thank you so much for your advice!

      Unfortunately I have no budget for special collections. What would be okay to use in place of an archival plastic bag? I suspect a ziploc bag is probably not okay. The only archival supplies I have available to me are archival folders and some four flap enclosures (typically used in special collections for more fragile books).

    • #134931
      Kaela Nurmi


      I just got a very detailed and helpful response from book conservator, Doug Sanders. He looked at the pictures and while it could be mold he suspects it is probably a “soluble or finely powdered grit (drywall, plaster, clay…) that may have migrated inward and dried there.”

      He then suggests to “brush off the deposit in a fume hood, or in a HEPA vacuum (on low suction of course).”
      Then place it in a four-flap enclosure and isolate from the main collection.

      Sanders also suggested flagging the item to be available to patrons only by librarian/curator approval. This way the patron is aware that there is an unknown substance on the book.

      I hope this helps!

    • #134932
      Asita A.

      Yes, very helpful. Thank you!

    • #134935
      Kim R. Du Boise

      In addition to Doug’s recommendation, I would also suggest using protective clothing & masks when handling the task of vacuuming or brushing off the material. It could be a form of powdery mildew, since there is a musty smell. It is better safe than sorry when it comes to dealing with possible fungi & spores. If you have a university or lab nearby that would identify this substance as a favor or gratis, it might be a good idea to check into that option.

      Best wishes,

    • #134938
      Asita A.


      Thank you for your suggestions, i will definitely keep these in mind.

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