You shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. But sometimes, even after turning its pages, the book’s merit, be it historical, scholarly or as a reference tool, remains cloudy.
Of the 600,000 university books, journals and documents damaged by mold while stored in an off-campus site, MU Libraries staff so far has identified 120,000 titles worth the cost of restoring.
But the search continues. Maybe there is a 20th-century book on Jim Crow laws or an 18th-century health sciences document that has value only a scholar could discern.
On Feb. 27, James Cogswell, director of MU Libraries, met with Faculty Council to ask for faculty expertise in identifying titles worth salvaging. Libraries hopes to salvage between 300,000 and 400,000 titles, depending on available funding, Cogswell told Mizzou Weekly in an email.
But the focus of the council meeting was not on how to mobilize experts to sift through a mountain of moldy materials.
Instead, council members asked why faculty was not told of the mold damage last October when it was discovered? Why were the titles housed in a budget storage facility rather than one with adequate climate control? And why have so few faculty been consulted for their expertise four and a half months after the catastrophe was discovered?
“It would be nice to have a say in what is being treated [for mold] and what is not being treated,” said Nancy Monnier, an associate teaching professor of Russian. “It feels like there should be more faculty making decisions.”
Faculty Council Chair Craig Roberts said, “We have a problem we should have been informed about.”
MU Libraries uses two offsite storage facilities: the University of Missouri System Library Depository (UMLD) on Lemone Industrial Boulevard, and Subtera Underground Warehousing off of North Stadium Boulevard, where the 600,000 titles were damaged. Opened in 2001, Subtera is more than 1 million square feet of subterranean space carved out of limestone by mining machines. Wall-sized steel doors lead to 50-foot wide storage rooms leased to clients.
Since 1998, MU Libraries has sought UM System funding to build a sister facility to UMLD designed for long-term book storage. Building the site would cost millions and funding has not been available. Consequently, space is leased to store the overflow from UMLD. Subtera has been used since 2006.
Libraries administrators learned of the Subtera mold bloom Oct. 17, 2013, after receiving a report from book borrowers, according to a news release by Libraries Nov. 4, 2013.
Among the entities to which the news release was sent was MU’s Library Committee, which includes eight faculty members, Cogswell said in an email.
During storage at Subtera, MU never inspected the books for infestation. “There was no protocol to do sampling of the collection,” Cogswell told council members. “We relied on the owners of the caverns to supply a safe environment [of regulated temperatures and low humidity], and they didn’t.”
Cogswell said faculty was not told formally of the bloom early on because Libraries didn’t have “enough information to answer questions about it.”
The challenge for Libraries staff was deciding how to proceed given the enormity of the collection, Matthew Gaunt, director of development for MU Libraries, said in a phone interview. “This is not an easy task to work through 600,000 books and bound journals to find out what to do with each title,” he said.
To restore the complete collection would cost an estimated $1.8 million, or $3 a book, library administrators said. But the money isn’t available. And storage space for the entire collection outside of Subtera is limited.
Of the damaged books, 64,000 are overstock from the law library, 30,000 from the engineering library and 47,000 are on the health sciences, according to the Libraries website. A small number covers geology, journalism and math.
About 250,000 — or more than one-third of the collection — are “infrequently used” monographs, federal and state documents and pre-1990 bound journals, the website said.
A consideration in leaving some titles off the salvage list was that they were available in duplicate prints or electronic format at UMLD, at an MU library or through interlibrary loans.
Spending restoration money merely to duplicate content available elsewhere in digital or print was deemed financially wasteful, Gaunt said. Even so, the money will be spent to restore titles considered important.
The UM Risk and Insurance Management office is trying to reach a settlement with Subtera. For now, funds for restoration are coming through a self-insurance fund with a balance of about $870,000.
But administrators don’t want to deplete the balance because the funds also insure other collections in the Libraries system. “We need to preserve as much of that fund as we can,” Gaunt said.
In response to people wanting to donate, Libraries created in February the Collection Enhancement Fund with a goal of raising $50,000.
Leaving the Caverns
MU Libraries intends to make a formal request to the UM System to proceed with a plan to build a storage addition to UMLD, Cogswell said in an email. The space might hold up to 150,000 titles of the Subtera collection.
Meanwhile, bids from contractors to treat the titles are being accepted, and a complete list of Subtera materials is being assembled. The list will likely be organized by subject and soon be available for faculty, Cogswell said.
By April, the Subtera collection will be stored at a provisional site until a permanent one becomes available, Cogswell told council members. Several sites in the area are being evaluated.