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A book's adhesives, inks, and paper may be made of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that can decompose over time. A humid or damp environment can accelerate this process and rusted binding staples are often an indicator of such an environment. During decomposition, the VOCs are released into the air and create the distinctive odor we identify as musty.  This odor is a complex composition and may reflect the ways the book was used or stored. A slight mustiness may be acceptable, but excessively musty books are usually unfit for commerce.

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