The University of St. Thomas
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Chemistry Department & Libraries Work Together to Preserve Books

Published on: Monday, September 16th, 2013

More Books with Spew

We all know that UST Libraries have a wonderful collection of rare and archival materials. Sometimes, however, taking care of so many old books can be a challenge, especially when they are discovered to be growing things they’re not supposed to. Who knew that we had a real-world chemistry problem sitting right here on campus!? 

Books with SpewBooks with SpewWhen Mr Curt Le May, Director of the Archbishop Ireland Memorial Library, approached the Chemistry department for help in identifying white film forming on the surface of leather bound 300-year-old books, Meghan Talbot, chemistry major and a research student under Dr. Marites Guino-o, was glad to help.

Meghan Talbot

Meghan collected the white film/powder by using a spatula and carefully scraping off the residue found on the surface of the leather bound book, “Histoire des variations des églises protestantes.”  Through a combination of three characterization techniques (FTIR, Mass and NMR spectroscopy), she deduced that the white film/powder is a spew (or speu). A spew is a combination of carboxylic acids that originated from the leather itself, and leather dressing used to increase the leather’s preservation and flexibility.

“Being able to work on a project such as this was a great honor. It was a very interesting experience to be able to work with a book that was evidence of a time in which I had learned about in previous history classes. I am glad that the work that I was able to do has the ability to help the library preserve books, such as this one, as they are such a crucial connection to our past.” ~Meghan Talbot

We at the library are grateful to Meghan for helping us find out what the white substance was, so we could find a way to safely remove it and keep these books for future Tommies. Cooperation across the campus can certainly be a great thing!  

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