library mold 092515

Lancaster Public Library spokeswoman Heather Sharpe examines the collection in the basement, where high humidity has caused mold to form on some books. An industrial-grade dehumidifier, in the foreground, works to dry the air.

Lancaster Public Library has closed its basement to public access, temporarily blocking patrons from borrowing books from the adult nonfiction, biography and reference collections.

The problem, library spokeswoman Heather Sharpe said Friday, is mold.

“We had a malfunctioning HVAC issue that caused high levels of humidity,” Sharpe said. “We discovered a few books with gray mold, and we immediately closed the section.”

The air quality in the basement stacks — as well as in the heavily patronized first- and second-floor collections — is fine, she said.

“It’s not a health issue,” Sharpe said.

However, the entire basement collection — some 50,000 volumes — has to be cleaned to remove mold and prevent permanent deterioration, she explained.

The library is still in negotiations to determine the cost of the procedure, she said, but "it will be substantial."

The mold was discovered Sept. 10, Sharpe said. She anticipates it will be three to four weeks before those books are cleaned and re-enter general circulation.

But losing nearly a third of its floor space is going to hurt the already cramped library, she said.

To move the basement collection upstairs means clearing out some of the existing materials, she explained.

“We have already done some extensive weeding — withdrawing items that are not heavily circulated,” Sharpe said.

The most popular items from the basement will be moved into spaces on the first floor, she said. Other items will go into storage — they will not be available for browsing, she said, but patrons will be able to ask staff members to retrieve specific items.

Several industrial-grade dehumidifiers are running to keep the basement dry, she added.

“At this point, it’s stablized,” she said. “We found the problem almost immediately, and it was really just a handful of books that were affected, but when anything like that shows up, you have to act quickly.”

Library officials don’t expect to reopen the basement to patrons any time soon, Sharpe said. Officials now are exploring their options for future improvements to the site — whether that be new construction or major renovations to the existing facility.

Library board president Nick Boyer said it’s “important that we provide our patrons full access to our collection, computers, reference materials and public spaces.”

The library, which has been operating at 125 N. Duke St. since 1954, is in need of extensive renovations, Sharpe said. Boyer noted that the library has already launched an ambitious capital campaign to raise funds for future improvements.

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