- Associated Press - Sunday, November 8, 2015

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - Mold has threatened some of the University of Mississippi’s most precious possessions - William Faulkner’s original manuscript materials and B.B. King’s personal listening collection.

On Aug. 18, university officials shut down the J.D. Williams Library, where mold had already infected archived volumes of historical manuscripts, newspapers, logbooks and literature.

“Fortunately we’ve not lost any materials,” said Julia Rholes, professor and dean of University of Mississippi Libraries. “Luckily, we caught it early, but not as early as we would like.”

She said they plan to reopen a portion of the library Nov. 9.

“It’s a really busy time for students and faculty,” she said. “While it will be available only on a limited basis, we wanted to have it open for students working on their finals or papers.”

Mold is a fungus that thrives in a warm and humid environment, where the air is stagnant.

Given those conditions, it is no surprise mold is one of the toughest foes that archivists battle in muggy Mississippi.

At the William F. Winter Archives & History Building in Jackson, archivists place special collections in a room, where the temperature is maintained at 60 degrees and the humidity at 40 percent.

Forrest Galey, special projects officer for the state Department of Archives and History, said extreme fluctuations in humidity and temperatures cause many woes.

“Mold and mildew deteriorate materials, especially papers,” she said.

Frances Coleman, dean of libraries for Mississippi State University, said MSU runs all contributed materials through a special process to ensure mold doesn’t accidentally enter their collections.

MSU libraries have yet to battle mold, but with all the ups and downs of temperatures in Mississippi, mold “could happen to anybody,” she said. “Julia is an excellent dean.”

In its Sept. 24 report on the library’s mold, Environmental Realty Services blamed increased humidity levels in 2010 and 2015 for the mold growth.

In its fight against high humidity, the library has been using dehumidifiers.

Rholes said the University of Mississippi is now talking to consultants about a new ventilation system that could better control such humidity.

She has yet to be told a figure but said it would be a “substantial investment.”

The library houses extensive materials on Mississippi and the South, including first-edition Faulkner books and one of the best blues collections in the world.

In late summer, the university hired experts to help get rid of the mold, which had attacked a number of books.

“Mold tends to be like the glue that holds the binding together,” Rholes said. “You’re more likely to see it on the outside.”

Fortunately, mold is less attracted to paper, she said.

“The (Faulkner) manuscripts were not touched,” Rholes said. “Luckily, nothing was lost. We’ve been able to clean everything so far.”

Tests from mid-September showed spore levels of penicillium and aspergillus as high as 5,100 per cubic meter.

Rholes said what happened could have been much worse because, from a health perspective, there are worse molds.

Emails obtained by The Clarion-Ledger show complaints about health effects from the library’s mold started as far back as October 2014.

Rholes said extensive air quality testing has been done to protect employees and patrons.

Right now, “the area is quite safe for people that don’t have respiratory sensitivity,” she said. “I’ve been in the stacks many times myself.”

The mold levels are not risky or even noticeable to most people, but “if you have asthma or known sensitivity for mold, you want to stay away,” she said.

She said experts have told them people “would probably be exposed to more mold raking leaves than in our stacks.”

Dr. Jack Thrasher, a renowned toxicologist and expert in molds, said health problems from molds shouldn’t be discounted.

Studies show they can include everything from headaches to nasal infections to rashes to chronic fatigue to possible brain damage, he said.

In his research, he has found molds spreading from people’s clothes to their cars and even to their bedspreads.

In its report, Environmental Realty Services acknowledged that a real problem with assessing mold is a lack of health standards defining which levels are unhealthy.

Because mold is so difficult to eradicate, Galey said the first thing archivists decide when dealing with a mold-infected item is whether that item can be replaced.

If it is irreplaceable, archivists use freezing to help save it.

That’s what they did in 2005 after Hurricane Katrina devastated and drenched so many important local records on the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

“We had a freezer truck down in Gulfport for items deemed valuable enough to save,” Galey said. “Those were frozen quickly and sent to a company in Texas.”

That company, which specializes in treating mold, uses ultraviolet light, she said.

“If you’re dealing with mold or mildew in your home, you can open your shades and let the sunlight in,” she said.

Once mold has infected a book, “it can rebloom in bad conditions,” she said. “Your problems aren’t necessarily over. You have to remain watchful.”

Rholes said she is grateful for the cooler weather, but realizes the library’s mold woes are far from over. “We know with the Mississippi humid summers, they will come back again.”

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Information from: The Clarion-Ledger, http://www.clarionledger.com

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