Mold damages 1,000 books at Madrid historical library

Infestation resulted after heavy rain caused flooding at Conde Duque Cultural Center

Staff are using fans to restore the damaged volumes.
Staff are using fans to restore the damaged volumes.CC OO

Heavy rain that fell in Madrid on June 23 has caused damage to around 1,000 books, some of them dating from the 16th century, at the Conde Duque Cultural Center Historical Library. “This loss is another chapter in the history of disasters to befall this library,” says Ignacio Gómez, archivist and representative of the CCOO labor union.

Flooding has been a constant problem since work was carried out at the library three years ago, says CCOO. But the recent downpour has caused serious damage to the Conde Duque’s collection: leaks, damp, and the appearance of mold have affected around 1,000 books, most of which are from the 20th century, although some are much older.

It is a great loss, but the damage could have been irreparable if the mold had attacked the jewels in the crown” Archivist Ignacio Gómez

“It is a great loss, but the damage could have been irreparable if the mould had attacked the jewels in the crown,” says Ignacio Gómez, referring to the collection of musical and theatrical works from Spain’s 17th-century Golden Age of art and literature, one of the largest in public hands. Workers were able to save these books – among them tonadillas, a form of short musical play popular in the period, from a number of the capital’s old theaters – in time. Sources at Madrid City Hall’s culture department says the most valuable works were removed as soon as the flooding began.

The collection has since been removed to upper areas of the building, a former barracks built in the early 18th century that suffers from structural problems. Its Historical Library specializes in works related to Madrid. “The damaged books are part of Madrid’s cultural heritage and belong to everybody,” says Gómez. To try to repair the books, restorers have been using fans, as well as placing special paper between pages and storing them in coolers to minimize damage. “They are using little more than household remedies, because the library lacks the resources to repair them properly,” complains Gómez.

One of the books damaged by the mold.
One of the books damaged by the mold.CC OO

Gómez says the cost of applying more advanced restoration techniques could cost more than replacing the books, some of which can be “bought in antique bookshops.” But City Hall says the techniques being used to treat the affected books were “the most adequate ones” and that they were “works that cannot be replaced and are not damaged beyond repair.”

In 2012, three other collections held by Madrid City Hall were damaged by woodworm. The Victor Espinos Musical Library was closed for six weeks as a result of an infestation, just one month after it was reopened following extensive renovation work.

CCOO says the work to restore the Conde Duque barracks took six years and cost €70 million, but the building remains unfinished, with poor air-conditioning and several glass doors that have been damaged due to the structure shifting. “This was a purely esthetic makeover that did nothing to protect this valuable building,” says Gómez.

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