Mold forces Ohio Wesleyan to close library for academic year
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Mold forces Ohio Wesleyan to close library for academic year

Apr 03, 2024

Three weeks before fall semester begins, Ohio Wesleyan University has said that its main library will be closed for the coming school year.

The reason? Mold.

The university announced the closure of Beeghly Library effective immediately to address the temperature, humidity, and related issues affecting the nearly 60-year-old building.

Incoming president Matthew P. vandenBerg said he was briefed recently on repair and mitigation efforts related to the outbreak of mold spores found in the library's collection.

"Unfortunately ... aggressive interventions have not yielded a satisfactory improvement in the building’s condition, and there is no solution that will enable it to reopen in time for the fall semester," vandenBerg emailed students and staff on Tuesday. Past efforts have included the use of industrial dehumidifiers.

Surface and air-quality measurements detected "stubbornly high moisture levels, as well as common molds that are in lower concentrations than exist outdoors," vandenBerg wrote. In addition, the building's roof, HVAC, air handlers, electrical system, elevator, and steam lines have exceeded their useful lifespans.

"We must be proactive when it comes to the health and safety of OWU students, staff, faculty, and visitors, which is our top priority," he explained for the decision to close for the 2023-2024 academic year.

Tom Wolber, who for 30 years taught foreign languages, literature and cultures at the university before taking a retirement buy-out a few years ago, said he wonders if the problems were caused by neglect.

"Books and other print media have been in decline for decades as part of the shift toward social and digital media," Wolber told The Dispatch in an email. "Students writing papers go to the Internet first and sometimes don't use a single book for their research unless forced to. As a result, OWU's physical library and its collection received less and less attention in recent years."

President vandenBerg said that library services will shift to the smaller Hobson Science Library in the Schimmel/Conrades Science Center. That space will eventually house a computer lab and study spaces.

The situation is considered so dire that staff who need to enter the Beeghly Library will need to make "tailored provisions" to do so, following ongoing scientific testing and third-party analysis of the mold outbreak, according to the university, whose enrollment is about 1,500 students.

The university is doing the right thing, said Rick Guthridge, franchise owner of Grandview Heights-based Puroclean, Water, Fire and Mold Experts. Testing the air for stachybotris and other molds with adverse health risks is the first step. Remediation would be painstaking and costly, especially for books, he said.

"It would be hard to clean, without damaging the books," Guthridge said. "They'd probably have to be thrown away."

High humidity and organic material are "a great feeding source" for mold, he added.

The library's special collections have already been hit, including those of the East and West Ohio Conferences of the Ohio Methodist Church, which stores its archives in the library. Conservationists and remediation experts have been called in to salvage what they can.

OhioLINK and interlibrary loan systems will be available to students and staff needing research materials. The library staff can be reached at [email protected] for specific requests.

Paul Kostyu, a former Ohio Wesleyan journalism teacher, said the library has been an "ongoing problem for a number of years," with foundation cracks and other issues found. He recalled a consultant's report indicating that the library be razed and replaced with a smaller version.

President vandenBerg alluded to that happening in his email: "As a community, we will work together to dream passionately and build a world-class library that serves as a paragon of excellence and a beacon that radiates our most cherished values. I look forward to building on the existing Library of the Future Task Force to help organize and lead our campus discussions."

The library has more than 276,000 books in circulation, plus special collections and more than 2,350 journal titles, said Cole Hatcher, Ohio Wesleyan spokesman.

"We've found (mold) blooms on all levels of the library," he said, but not on every book. "It's been a spot here and a spot there."

"We've hit the point where we're just not able to control this."

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