Microplastic Pollution in the Library! A Collaborative Investigation into the Curious Case of a Crumbling Waterproof Field Guide

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Timms, Geoffrey P.
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Synthetic paper; waterproof paper; polypropylene; plastic deterioration; microplastic pollution; library materials management.
Synthetic paper is waterproof and durable, but the discovery of the crumbling synthetic paper pages of a 37-year-old waterproof library monograph raised concern both about its longevity and its potential to contribute to environmental pollution. The page substrate was identified as polypropylene, a polymer known to deteriorate over time and still widely used today. I alerted and surveyed libraries holding waterproof copies of the field guide and determined that over 50% of library copies have deteriorated, but at different rates. Statistically, the number of circulations is not a significant factor in predicting the extent of deterioration, suggesting that ambient environmental conditions and chemical transformations of the polymer are the leading initiators of the deterioration observed. While the specific phenomenon observed with this one book may be a relatively rare occurrence, the collection management implications of plastic materials found within library collections are also discussed.
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