The use of old books and documents can be hazardous to your health! I do not mean to alarm anyone with this statement, yet you should be aware of possible hazards and how to avoid them.
This article begins with an overview of infection, allergy and disease sources. Then there are suggestions for the safe use of paper materials. Finally, there is a section on problems associated with paper which has been moldy, in a flood, stored in a basement or a barn, or treated with an insecticide or fungicide.
Please note that this article is about paper based artifacts. Other materials, such as textiles, could be the source of different health risks.
Sources of Allergies, Infections, and Disease
The sources of health hazards when using papers are dust, mold, bacteria, by-products of mold and bacteria, and applied chemicals. (While not all molds and bacteria are disease causing, it is best to assume that a portion of those encountered on paper are pathogenic.)
The dust associated with books and manuscripts is described by McLellan and Baker in the article "Incidence of allergy in archival work":
House dust, which may be very similar to our records dust, is the end result of the breakdown and decomposition of the various animal and vegetable products found in the interior environment, including the results of bacterial actions on these materials.
Dust causes mild, moderate, and severe allergic reactions.
A second source of risk is mold, which has two aspects to consider: The mold organism which you see on paper is most likely to be a hazard if it gets into an opening in your skin, causing an infection. When the mold is dead and the paper is dry, allergic reactions can result if the mold is scattered as dust in the air.
Mold releases reproductive cells called spores, which are easily inhaled into the lungs. Hundreds of types of molds can be associated with paper, and they are the source of numerous allergies. The spores of a few species of mold also cause disease such as histoplasmosis. "Old mold" can be a source of spores, even when the mold organism is dead.
A third source of risk is bacteria, another complicated micro-organism. Many different types of bacteria can cause ill-health in humans, and the mechanisms which cause disease or infection are varied: Some bacteria cause allergies just by their presence, since the human body reacts to the bacteria as "foreign" cells.
The enzymes which bacteria produce can cause harm to human tissue.
Bacteria have two groups of by-products which are classified as toxins. One group affects human hosts while the bacteria is alive; the second group becomes a hazard when the bacteria dies. So it is possible for there to be a health risk from both newly contaminated paper and paper which was exposed to living bacteria long ago.
Tolerance and Sensitivity
Every individual has a different tolerance to each possible toxin and allergen. This makes it difficult to predict whether a potential health hazard will actually become someone's disease, infection, or allergy. Everyone should look at their own previous experience to evaluate the risks and set their personal limit of exposure. For instance, if there is a history of allergies, it would be best to avoid any exposure to dirty or moldy papers. Likewise, exposure to known risks should be avoided if a person has been ill recently, since the body's defense mechanisms are probably weak.
Prolonged exposure to dust and mold can increase a person's sensitivity until the body can no longer tolerate what was once no problem. This is a special concern for people who work in libraries and archives. Prolonged exposure (all day, for years) can mean that allergies develop with relatively low levels of airborne dust and mold. Therefore, a library staff member should be extra strict in following the healthy behavior guidelines given below, when working with papers that are heavily contaminated.
Incidentally, the "stale" air in many libraries and records repositories contributes to health risk. When ventilation is inadequate, and when air filters are not chosen well or maintained properly, the adverse effects of dust and mold are increased. (Cited from Notes on the preservation of personal health.
LIVA book sterilizer-Protecting readers’ health and extending the lifespan of the books
The inhabitants on books bring skin troubles and even diseases to readers. Books without sterilizing the inner parts are likely to become mildewed, which poses dangers to librarians and readers who have not taken protective measures.
To some degree, we have all suffered from the uncomfortable smell or residues on borrowed books. In order to create a clean reading environment for people, and extend the lifetime of circulating books, Evertree invented LIVA self-service book sterilizer. It disinfects the books in 1 minute. Since the outbreak of COVID 19, LIVA book sterilizer is favored by libraries from all over the world. They are amazed at the convenience and working efficiency of LIVA book sterilizer. Evertree is still working hard to make constant upgrade to better serve the users.