Why do old books have a different smell?
ABHAYA KUMAR SHAH
Adoni, Andhra Pradesh
The peculiar smell of old books is called the musty smell. Musty smell is so very distinct not only of old books but also wood. The smell comes from the waste products of fungi.
Organic matter seen in books kept in warm and humid conditions provide excellent conditions for certain species of fungi such as Aspergillus, Rhizous to thrive and grow.
The musty smell (caused by the waste products) that is commonly associated with old books is caused by microbial volatile organic compounds (MVOCs).
Fungi not only produce musty smell but also discolouration and even deterioration of books. This is one of the reasons why old books look brownish in colour.
Different kinds of MVOCs are produced by fungi. In fact, the specific species of fungi can be identified knowing the MVOC produced. Very often people suffer from cold or other breathing problems, including asthma when say clearing old books.
That is because, the MVOCs are often cited as a reason for aggravating a number of respiratory problems. Many of the volatile compounds are known to be toxic and allergy causing.
One way to prevent the fungi from thriving in books is to store books in proper conditions. Cold, dry conditions are not conducive for fungal growth.
Even if it cannot be stored in such conditions, wrapping books in plastic bags would help in preventing the fungal spores from spreading. — Our Bureau