How Air Quality Monitors Can Help Protect Libraries

Books may give you comfort—but they can also give you bad air quality. 

The truth is books can be a breeding ground for dust accumulation that triggers respiratory issues for librarians and visitors. Libraries with insufficient moisture control can also foster mold and mildew growth. 

Since libraries are often inside aging buildings, their ventilation systems may be outdated. As such, these systems can’t filter or circulate air effectively, which leads to a buildup of pollutants in the air.  

So, what can librarians do to keep their books safe and their visitors happy? In this article, we’ll unpack how air quality monitors can help with maintaining libraries to protect their books and their staff. 

Why Libraries Have Poor Air Quality 

Libraries, like other indoor environments, can have harmful Indoor Air Quality (IAQ). Indoor air pollution can then affect both people's health and the preservation of materials. The climate conditions in libraries can encourage the growth of microorganisms, and that can damage library collections. 

For example, librarians often unpack boxes, clean shelves, and catalog books—all of which can release airborne mold spores. In fact, researchers have found 9,000 mold spores per cubic meter of air in libraries. Researchers also found harmful silver particles in the air from photocopying, as well as Particulate Matter (PM) at concerning levels. 

Further research examined Science and Technology Beijing’s library and discovered that each of the nine rooms they examined had different kinds of pollution. They identified high levels of Carbon Dioxide (CO2), fine Particulate Matter (PM2.5), formaldehyde, and other chemicals. In fact, rooms used for reading and holding books had increased levels of  CO2 and dust in the air, while rooms just for storing books had more formaldehyde.  

With all these concerns, the first step to improving the air quality in libraries is to monitor the air itself. By measuring the air quality in real-time, we can better understand what's in the air, how it might affect librarians and library visitors, and determine our next actions. 

How Air Quality Monitors Can Help Libraries 

Air quality monitors provide the information librarians need to fight against bad air quality and protect both their health and the books they have.  

Here are several ways air quality monitors can help: 

  • Proactive Health Protection: Air quality monitors enable librarians to proactively protect their health by detecting contaminants like mold spores and chemicals.  
  • Enhanced Comfort: Monitoring indoor air quality ensures a comfortable and pleasant environment, promoting longer stays and increased productivity for patrons.  
  • Collection Preservation: Air quality monitors can help safeguard valuable library collections by detecting environmental factors like humidity and temperature fluctuations. By maintaining optimal conditions, librarians can extend the lifespan of their materials. 
  • Cost-Efficient Maintenance: Targeted maintenance efforts are possible with air quality monitors, reducing costs by focusing on areas with specific air quality issues.  
  • Efficient Ventilation: Real-time data from air quality monitors allows librarians to optimize ventilation systems, ensuring a constant supply of fresh air.  
  • Compliance and Reporting: Air quality monitors provide data for compliance with regulatory requirements. This is particularly important for libraries in educational institutions or government buildings. 

Installing Air Quality Monitors in Libraries 

If you’re ready to install air quality monitors in libraries, here are some tips on using them: 

  • Place the Device Strategically: Proper placement of air quality monitors is essential for accurate readings. Consider installing monitors in areas where librarians and patrons spend the most time, such as reading rooms and study areas. Additionally, place monitors near potential sources of pollutants, like photocopiers or vents, to detect localized issues. 
  • Avoid Obstructions: Ensure your air quality monitors have unobstructed airflow to obtain accurate measurements. Keep monitors away from obstacles like curtains, shelves, or furniture that could block the movement of air and affect readings.  
  • Regular Maintenance: Establish a maintenance schedule for your air quality monitors. This includes periodic cleanings and air quality monitor replacements as needed.  

By installing air quality monitors in libraries, librarians can understand and improve their air quality. We hope these tips helped you learn more about the dangers of air pollution in libraries, and how you can take steps to improve air quality in your own community. 

Get Involved Yourself  

At PurpleAir, there are tons of community projects going on around the world. We’re thrilled to see more collaborative efforts, and we look forward to seeing plenty more in the future. Are you working on a community project with PurpleAir’s air quality monitors?  

We would love to hear about it. Share a post in the Community Project forum, so we can highlight your work. Together, we can make air quality accessible for everyone.