Why does my library … whiff? (Part Deux)


Old-BooksA year-and-a-half ago, I asked the perennial book-lover’s question:  Why does my library … whiff?  And I got some answers, incomprehensible as they were.  I wrote about that here.

Now PopSci is taking up the question.  Here’s what it has to say in “FYI: Why Do Libraries Smell?”

The musty smell is most likely cellulose decay. Since the mid-19th century, when papermakers began using groundwood pulp in place of cotton or linen, most paper has contained an unstable compound called lignin, which breaks down into acids and makes paper very brittle. Since 2001, the Library of Congress has treated at least 250,000 books every year with magnesium oxide. The chemical deacidifies paper and slows decay.

librarycatRead the rest here.  One reader offered his own article on the Heritage Smells Project here. Another reader complained:  “This article was so small, it neglected to mention why paper makers started using groundwood pulp. Furthermore, it neglected to mention that it also replaced hemp paper, even though it doesn’t suffer from the same problem over a comparable amount of time since it contains only a fraction of the lignin.  Can we get a further explanation on the costs of this sniffing/restoration vs simply changing the format it’s stored in?”

I’m not a chemist, and I don’t have much of an opinion.  Cellulose, shmellulose.  Still smells like cat urine to me.


One Response to “Why does my library … whiff? (Part Deux)”

  1. Fred Says:

    I discovered your blog looking for a poem Hölderlin wrote for his grandmother (it was mentioned in an interview). Looking forward to digging in to the archives here!