Archive for May 10th, 2012

Why does my library … whiff?

Thursday, May 10th, 2012

Don’t know about you, but my library has an odor of … je ne sais quoi.

“A combination of grassy notes with a tang of acids and a hint of vanilla over an underlying mustiness,” according to a team of chemists from University College London  and the University of Ljubljana.

That’s a nice spin on it.  Here I had been thinking it was residual eau de cat urine, minus the hints of vanilla.  According to an article in The Guardian, it’s worse than that:

Basically, a book is made of organic materials — a variety of different papers and inks, as well as glues and fibers used to bind the book together. These organic components react to heat, light and moisture in the environment and with the chemicals used to make the book itself. Specific odours are the result of the particular blend of volatile compounds released by the sum total of the book’s organic materials. These odours also include those contributed by outside influences encountered by the book during its life — influences that impart the familiar stench of old cigarettes or cigars that is often associated with old books, for example.

That old books smell is the smell of death.

That makes me feel ever so much better about it.

Meanwhile, the London-Ljubljana team “is developing a new, nondestructive, methodology where special equipment is used to mechanically ‘sniff” aromas released by old books and other heritage objects to identify the materials they are made of and also to assess degradation. They call this new field of study ‘degradomics’.”

Degradomics… hmmmm… This apt term should have other applications in an election year.