Monday, 16 September 2013

Danger lurks in our book stacks!

A cautionary tale was recently posted on Chetham's Library's blog. All custodians of historic collections know that they need to be eternally vigilant against attack by moulds, rodents, pollutants, insects and other pests. In this case a mouse or small rat is thought responsible for the chewed pages recently found by a bookbinder in the library's copy of Lactantius's works printed in Venice in 1478. 

Luckily no text was lost in the affected volume and the animal responsible has long since stopped visiting libraries though its direct descendants are believed to still live in the Manchester area. Just in case, the ambient temperature at Chetham's is now kept generally so low that only the hardiest librarians or readers would dream of entering the book stacks. And, so, the extra precaution of a cat introduced in the 1960s is no longer necessary but its collar still remains as one of the library's more modern artifacts. 

In fact, adding cat flaps to medieval doors is no longer allowed and cats themselves might introduce new preservation issues – for instance, what size of animal would be needed to control the feral cats that recently occupied the school and library complex had they gained entry into the book stacks? Prevention is invariably better than cure! 

Chetham's Library, Manchester

Visit the Chetham's blog and read more about the damaged item at:

and please send your own pictures and stories of historic books which have come into contact with library predators (including readers) but which, hopefully, have survived to tell the tale. Email contributions (both AIL and non-AIL libraries) to:

For further information about library preservation, take advantage of the free booklets available from the Preservation Advisory Centre at the British Library:

The currently available titles are:

Basic preservation
Damaged books
Pests (including an additional version in Spanish - Las plagas]
Preservation policy

Printed copies (again free of charge) may be obtained by emailing

Geoffrey Forster 
16 September 2013

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