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John Lawton

Q. I purchased some vintage books at a book sale, then noticed a distinct mildew odor. Can you help?
Meg E. Gardner
New York City

 A. Turn on a fan. That unpleasant smell coming from your early edition of The Catcher in the Rye stems from a high moisture content (and possible mold growth) in the paper, says Yasmeen Khan, a rare-book conservator for the Library of Congress, in Washington, D.C. “Since paper is made of moisture-sucking cellulose, the pages dry at a snail’s pace, creating the ideal damp environment for bacteria to thrive,” she says. Get rid of any remaining moisture by standing the book up so its pages fan out in front of an air conditioner or a fan for two to three days. Then store the book inside a closed plastic storage container with an open box of baking soda until the mustiness clears. This may take up to a week for hardbacks, because their thick covers retain more moisture.

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