Measuring the smell of old books to find candidates for preservation

Matija Strlic and colleagues write in the ACS's Analytical Chemistry about "material degradomics," a techniques by which the odors emanating from old books are noninvasively analyzed to figure out which books are rotting and need preservation:

Matija Strlic and colleagues note in the new study that the familiar musty smell of an old book, as readers leaf through the pages, is the result of hundreds of so-called volatile organic compounds (VOCs) released into the air from the paper. Those substances hold clues to the paper's condition, they say. Conventional methods for analyzing library and archival materials involve removing samples of the document and then testing them with traditional laboratory equipment. But this approach destroys part of the document.

The new technique, called "material degradomics," analyzes the gases emitted by old books and documents without altering the documents themselves.

'Smell of Old Books' Offers Clues to Help Preserve Them

(Image: Books of the Past, a Creative Commons Attribution photo from Lin Pernille ♥ Photography's photostream)