Like When the Library of Alexandria Burned Down, But Slower

By Communications Office Wed, April 16, 2008

According to Scottish newspaper the Sunday Herald, a Strathclyde University professor of applied chemistry is working with British Library staff to devise a machine that will be able to "smell" the chemicals given off by decaying paper, with the hope that such an apparatus will be able to "test the 'health' of valuable or ancient books and ensure their survival."

The Sunday Herald piece quotes Professor Jim Levicki as saying, "The problem is that libraries have massive collections of old books, historical documents or newspapers, and very little is known about how they break down over time. ... We're starting from the bottom up to find out exactly what happens to books when they age. We lose part of our history and cultural heritage through the decay of these things. Look at what happened when the library of Alexandria burned down. This is the same process, but slower."


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