From papyrus to compact disc: the microbial deterioration of documentary heritage

Crit Rev Microbiol. 2005;31(1):1-10. doi: 10.1080/10408410490884766.


Highly significant evidence of the intellectual and cultural efforts of the human race is contained in documents. They take many forms, from papyri through paper to modern magnetic media and optical records. These items are mainly made of organic materials many of which contain polymers, which span from cellulose and its derivatives to synthetic resins. As with other manmade objects, however, documentary heritage is susceptible to chemical, physical, and biological damage. For the colonization and establishment of any biological community, the composition of materials used, their status of conservation, and environmental and climatic factors, such as temperature and humidity, are important elements to take into account. This article covers the scientific investigation of microbial degradation of documents, which is one of the most serious and underappreciated sources of damage to library and archival materials. In particular, although less known, modern records, including compact discs, are also subjected to biodeterioration. Archival and library material preservation broadly encompasses those activities and functions designed to produce a suitable and safe environment that extends the life of collections in useable condition for as long as is feasible. In the literature quoted, key information is also provided to avoid or limit microbial growth and some conservation treatments are also reported.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bacteria*
  • Biodegradation, Environmental
  • Environmental Microbiology
  • Fungi*
  • Information Storage and Retrieval*
  • Insecta
  • Optical Storage Devices*
  • Paper*
  • Photography