Rare Book Monthly

Articles - October - 2015 Issue

The Boston Public Library's Summer of Discontent: One More Problem - Mold

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Moldspores are far more attractive under a microscope than on a book.

This has been a tough summer for the rare books and prints departments of the Boston Public Library. It seems that pretty much everything that can go wrong did go wrong. The issues they have experienced provide a microcosm of the problems libraries face today, though few experience so many of them all at once.

 

Last April, the library's President, Amy Ryan, was informed that two prints, one valued at $600,000, had been missing for almost a year. After a couple weeks of frantic searching, she concluded they must have been stolen and the police and FBI were called in. Boston's Mayor was not pleased, and after a meeting between the library's Board of Directors, President, and the Mayor's representative, Ms. Ryan handed in her resignation (click here). Astonishingly, the next day, the missing prints were found, misplaced among the 1.3 million items in the prints section of the library. Still, there was too much water over the dam. Ms. Ryan did not withdraw her resignation, but left a month later anyway.

 

Then, a few weeks later, a study commissioned by the library to evaluate its situation was released. It revealed that the library was plagued with problems (click here). It found the prints area was terribly disorganized, with records incomplete and hard to follow. Locating material depended on the memories of veteran staff. Quarters were cramped, almost no space was available for storing items or doing any work, helping to explain why things could readily get lost. The report's criticism was hardly limited to current staff. It found that previous administrations had proven better at obtaining collections than caring for them, and that the city provided insufficient funds and personnel to manage such a collection.

 

Now, one more major problem has befallen the library, in its Rare Books Department. It is the fear and scourge of librarians everywhere – mold. On September 14, a staff member retrieving a copy of the British Museum Catalogue of Printed Books discovered mold on it. This led to immediate surveying of the collection and the discovery of additional volumes showing signs of mold. Library officials quickly called in an outside firm specializing in mold containment to evaluate the situation. They also brought in several dehumidifiers to assist the central air conditioning which is the main source of climate control. A second group of dehumidifiers was placed on order.

 

There are 1,000,000 manuscripts and 500,000 books in the library's Rare Books Department. Fortunately, most of the manuscripts are housed in archival boxes which protect them from mold. Cleaning efforts will be focused on the books which are kept on open shelves. A vacuuming process is used to clean spores off of the books. An extensive effort will be employed as the library announced that it will be closing the Rare Books Department from public use for an estimated 5 to 10 weeks. The library has not said how much the clean-up will cost, but an undertaking of this magnitude will not be inexpensive.

 

Historic collections are not easy to maintain. Libraries have taken on much of the task of preserving our history. It is not their main purpose in being, but it is essential that someone do it if we are to maintain a connection to our past, if we are to know who we are and learn the lessons our ancestors taught us. However, preserving these collections is extremely expensive. The Boston Public Library's misadventures this summer have demonstrated this stark reality to the bright light of day. For decades, funding for libraries has been getting tighter, even as collections expanded. Now, access to information digitally has reduced usage of most rare book rooms, making public willingness to fund their operation even tighter. We have a dilemma here, one still seeking an answer.

Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>ANZAAB Highlights Catalogue:</b> OUTHWAITE, Ida Rentoul. FROG TEACHER LEADING ELF PUPILS ... Watercolour, c.1920.
    <b>ANZAAB Highlights Catalogue:</b> SATO, Gyro. [GENDAI RYOKI SENTAN ZUKAN]. Tokyo : Shinchosa, 1931.
    <b>ANZAAB Highlights Catalogue:</b> CARROLL, Lewis. ALICE’S ADVENTURES IN WONDERLAND. London : Macmillan and Co., 1868.
    <b>ANZAAB Highlights Catalogue:</b> FLEMING, Ian and MILLER, Albert. CHITTY CHITTY BANG BANG. New York : Random House, 1968.
    <b>ANZAAB Highlights Catalogue:</b> PHOENIX. Adelaide : Adelaide University Union, 1939.
    <b>ANZAAB Highlights Catalogue:</b> BOWEN, Emmanuel. A complete map of the Southern Continent. London : 1744.
    <b>ANZAAB Highlights Catalogue:</b> NORTHFIELD, James. AUSTRALIA. Melbourne : Northfield Studios and J.E. Hackett, c.1935
  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 5:</b> Charles Loupot, <i>Les Cigarettes Mekka,</i> 1919. $15,000 to $20,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 5:</b> Plinio Codognato, <i>Cicli Fiat,</i> circa 1910. $12,000 to $18,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 5:</b> L.N. Britton, <i>Warning! Consider the Possible Consequences,</i> c. 1917. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 5:</b> Leonardo Bistolfi, <i>Première Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs Modernes,</i> 1902. $7,000 to $10,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 5:</b> Leonetto Cappiello, <i>Paquet Pernot / Biscuits Pernot,</i> 1910. $4,000 to $6,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Jul 15:</b> Jessie Tarbox Beals, archive of signed photographs, 15 silver prints, c. 1930. $6,000 to $8,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 5:</b> Francesco Nonni, <i>Font Meo / Acqua Minerale Naturale,</i> 1924. $4,000 to $6,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 5:</b> Frederick Winthrop Ramsdell, <i>American Crescent Cycles,</i> 1899. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 5:</b> <i>Be a Tight Wad! Own Something!</i> designer unknown, 1925. $2,000 to $3,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 5:</b> Candido Aragonese de Faria, <i>Chamonix–Mont–Blanc,</i> c. 1910. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 5:</b> W.E.J., <i>Irishmen Avenge the Lusitania,</i> c. 1915. $2,000 to $3,000.
  • <center><b>Sotheby’s<br>Your Own Sylvia:<br>Sylvia Plath’s letters to Ted Hughes and other items,<br>Property of Frieda Hughes<br>9 to 21 July 2021</b>
    <b>Sotheby’s, 9 – 21 July:</b> Sylvia Plath. Family photograph album ("The Hughes family Album"), 1957-1962. £30,000 to £50,000.
    <b>Sotheby’s, 9 – 21 July:</b> Sylvia Plath. Typed letter signed, to Ted Hughes, on "my own private doctrine", with a poem, 5 October 1956. £15,000 to £20,000.
    <b>Sotheby’s, 9 – 21 July:</b> Sylvia Plath. Pen and ink portrait of Ted Hughes, [1956]. £10,000 to £15,000.
    <center><b>Sotheby’s<br>Your Own Sylvia:<br>Sylvia Plath’s letters to Ted Hughes and other items,<br>Property of Frieda Hughes<br>9 to 21 July 2021</b>
    <b>Sotheby’s, 9 – 21 July:</b> Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath. Joint autograph letter signed, to William and Edith Hughes, March 1960. £8,000 to £12,000.
    <b>Sotheby’s, 9 – 21 July:</b> Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes. Photographic portrait by David Bailey, inscribed by Plath, 1961, and another press photo. £800 to £1,200.
    <b>Sotheby’s, 9 – 21 July:</b> Tarot de Marseille. Deck of cards owned by Sylvia Plath. £4,000 to £6,000.
    <b>Sotheby’s, 9 – 21 July:</b> Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes. Pair of gold wedding rings. £6,000 to £8,000.
  • <center><b>Trillium Antique Prints & Rare Books<br>Fine Art<br>Antique Engravings & Lithographs<br>Works on Paper<br>Accepting bids until July 31</b>
    <b>Trillium, July 31:</b> Cleveley, Jukes, & Cook - View of Charlotte Sound, New Zealand. $3,000 to $5,000.
    <b>Trillium, July 31:</b> Peron - Platypus. $300 to $600.
    <b>Trillium, July 31:</b> Loon & Pitt - Map of the World published 1680 - <I>Orbis Terrarum nova et accuratissima tabula.</i> $5,000 to $8,000.
    <b>Trillium, July 31:</b> Maitres de l'Affiche by MUCHA - La Dame aux Camelias. $4,000 to $6,000.
    <center><b>Trillium Antique Prints & Rare Books<br>Fine Art<br>Antique Engravings & Lithographs<br>Works on Paper<br>Accepting bids until July 31</b>
    <b>Trillium, July 31:</b> Cause - Peony, Crocus, Dog's Tooth Violet. $400 to $800.
    <b>Trillium, July 31:</b> Redoute, Folio - Lemmonnier's Iris - Iris Monnieri. $2,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Trillium, July 31:</b> Audubon, Imperial Folio - Common American Deer. $6,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Trillium, July 31:</b> Gould - Cuvier's Toucan (Ramphastos Cuvieri). $5,000 to $8,000.

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