21 January 2014

Tuesday Tip – The Moldy Truth re: North Carolina

I’ve been watching the discussions regarding the destruction of materials from Franklin County, North Carolina with (understandable) interest. Along with many of you, my first thought was, ‘OMIGO_!!’ Then, because I’m not involved directly with the Heritage Society, the Clerk of the Courts, the Recorder of Deeds, the Franklin County Commissioners or the North Carolina State Archives, I felt it was best to quiet my voice and simply ‘listen’ to what was being presented on Social Media. I think we’ve all been on the receiving end of a not-so-great social media experience and I felt it was so important not to add an uninformed voice to the fray.

However, as a Professional Archivist, I wanted to have an understanding of how this situation came into being, so I contacted Sarah Koonts, State Archivist of North Carolina. We exchanged several emails, and then we scheduled a call. I’ll discuss what we talked about in another post but I’ll say that, if I lived in North Carolina, I would want Sarah as the steward of the records the State holds. She’s a passionate historian and Archivist, but more importantly, she’s just as frustrated by the series of events that occurred because they ended with the loss of confidence by the public that she serves.

Having said this I’m fully aware of the investment, of time and heart, that the Heritage Society put into trying to protect the material that was located in the basement of the Franklin County Courthouse. However, having read the document provided by Franklin County Manager, Angela Harris, there is only ONE aspect of this situation which seems to need some serious discussion and education: Mold.

In the first posts, I saw comments about the fact that there were materials stored in the basement of the Franklin County Courthouse that were moldy while some had been unaffected. For the record, I have never been in the Franklin County Courthouse basement, so I’m only speaking as an Archives professional not as someone who has been on site. However, after reading Ms. Harris' document and looking at the pictures, I’m very surprised that the people working in that location did not feel the effects of the mold that was there.

I get teary every time I see the picture of the ledgers lined on those shelves that are now gone. But then I see the ‘dust’ too, which is not only dust but mold and know that it would have cost thousands of dollars to rid them of the mold that had infested them. Sadly, while there is plenty to be learned from this situation, the greatest take-away should be that NO records, of such rich research value, should ever be allowed to sit in a basement where they deteriorate to the point they have to be incinerated.

The terrible thing about mold; it appears to be harmless, but it can create a multitude of health problems in individuals who have been exposed to it. Unless going through a clean room after being exposed, those mold spores can travel on your person and be left along your path potentially contaminating everything that you come in contact with. How is that possible? It’s possible because mold goes dormant (that dusty stuff). All it takes is microscopic bits of H2O to come in contact with it for it to rebloom and you have another infestation. This is why there are companies that charge thousands of dollars to provide mold remediation.

I’d like very much for those you who are reading this and grinding your teeth because you think I’m over-stating the dangers of mold to follow this link, from a slide presentation of how mold affects a collection (in this case in Libraries and Archives), not unlike the materials in Franklin County. Please note, at the end of the presentation slides that the presenter mentions, multiple times, that mold remediation/removal from materials should be done by professionals. It’s simply not something that you can do yourself. No amount of hand sanitizer will help. The Library of Congress also has some great information here.

As researchers, of any kind, it’s up to us to be familiar with our local repositories. It’s up to us to be vigilant about staying informed of who the stewards of those materials are because THEY are the ones who are responsible for those materials. And, with public records, those stewards change often. Do you know who your Clerk of Courts or Records of Deeds is, or what about your County Archives? You don’t know if your County has an Archives? Hmmm, maybe that’s something you might want to check out…

We must act locally to save records from needing to be destroyed. 


  1. Thanks for your very sensible post with great links about the dangers of MOLD!! We didn't used to think about mold very much... shrugging it off as "a little mold - oh well"... And over the past century or two, many fine collections have deteriorated to this point - they had to be discarded ASAP! They were literally unhealthy to the people handling/working there. And to us, the public, as well.
    Every time there's a flood or storm surge... I cringe knowing what the result will be... damp documents and various papers, becoming infested with mold.
    Thanks again for such a great informative post, Laura. Much appreciated.

  2. Celia said it well! Ditto!

  3. Laura, what about coal dust? It is all over many of the documents that I'm indexing at our local archive.

  4. Laura,

    I want you to know that your blog post is listed in today's Fab Finds post at http://janasgenealogyandfamilyhistory.blogspot.com/2014/01/follow-friday-fab-finds-for-january-24.html

    Have a great weekend!

  5. Jana, thank you so much for helping spread the word about the challenges, and dangers, of mold. Have a fabulous weekend!

  6. Oh dear! That is a bit alarming. Molds can really be one of the worst infestations that can invade one's household, not to mention archives of important documents. Not only do we risk losing decades of research and rich information, we also risk the health of the archivists that manage the records, as molds can also have really dangerous health effects. Thanks for sharing!
    Thomas Eberhard @ Brewer Restoration


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